SAN JOSE -- It was either beat the Sharks, or sleep with the fishes.
At a stage in their season when every loss is near-fatal, the Edmonton Oilers kept their playoff hopes alive with a gritty, down-to-the wire 3-2 victory over San Jose last night.
With seventh-place Nashvlle and eighth-place Colorado losing earlier in the day, the Oilers gained precious ground on the playoffs, closing the gap to six points with 23 games to go.
This one came on the backs of the penalty killers, who skated their blades to nubs for all the work they had.
The Oilers had leads of 2-0 and 3-1, but like so many games in this building, it went right down to the final seconds.
The Sharks, who had 9:56 of power-play time on the night, had one last odd-man advantage with 38 seconds left in the game. Pulling the goalie made it six-on-four. Steve Staios, Edmonton's best penalty killer on the night, was in the box.
Ladislav Smid, Jarret Stoll, Marty Reasoner and Tom Gilbert killed almost all of it, but Stoll got called for hooking with 8.9 seconds left, making it a six-on-three with the face off in Edmonton zone.
But the Oilers ran out the clock to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Nothing on this night came easily in a game when they were again outshot and spent far too much time in the penalty box.
They took a handful of stuipid penalties in the opening frame - like Marty Reasoner's one-handed tomahawk chop at centre ice on the puck carrier, or Ales Hemsky's two for griping at the referee - but emerged from the period tied 0-0, thanks to their penalty killers.
Edmonton still isn't generating many shots, but they made them count in the second period, scoring on a Sam Gagner backhand that banked in off Hemsky at 1:31 and then expanding the lead to 2-0 on Kyle Brodziak's goal from Zack Stortini and Curtis Glencross.
It was Brodziak's third goal in two games and came moments after Stortini begged off a fight with Jody Shelley.
The Oilers would have loved to take a 2-0 lead into the third, but had to settle for 2-1 on Joe Pavelski's rebound goal at 16:43.
Fernando Pisani scored on a third-period breakaway at 3:33, jumping on the loose puck after Ethan Morea blocked a shot, and Edmonton had its insurance.
They would need it, as Mike Grier scored on a shorthanded breakaway with 11 minutes left to make a game of it again.
The Sharks, meanwhile, are waging their own little dogfights -- with Dallas, for first in the division and an automatic top-three seed, and with Anaheim, for home ice advantage should they meet in the first round of the playoffs.
"It's about gaining traction," said head coach Ron Wilson, whose club hasn't been able to find much lately.
"It's like mud wrestling in the Western Conference. There's nothing secure for any of the teams.
"There's never any movement in the standings because everybody in this mix is playing each other."
LATE HITS: Former Oilers defenceman Alexei Semenov was a healthy scratch for San Jose...Gagner's second period assist extended his scoring streak to five games.
He has six points in that span.