Fighting for a spot

ROB TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

Nashville -- They're not going down without a fight.

They're probably going down anyway, given the likelihood of reaching a playoff spot from 13th place this late in the season, but the Edmonton Oilers are making it painfully clear that win or lose -- make it or not -- they're not leaving any game without a pound of flesh.

Saturday's holy war in Vancouver, a fight-filled exhibition of belligerence and antagonism that left both sides feeling stronger and more united, only reinforces the pack mentality that's won the Oilers four of their last six games.

"Earlier in the year, we were soft to play against," said captain Ethan Moreau. "We had a couple of meetings, and I guess the analogy is that if we're going down, we're going down swinging."

That they are. Seven fights in Vancouver. A fistful in the opening minutes against Calgary. And in the last few games the hitting, grinding, slashing, whacking and aggression totals are higher than rent in Fort McMurray.

It's made them a tough team to play and a fun one to watch.

"It's better than I've ever seen on any team," said Moreau of team philosophy that's something along the lines of hit first and ask questions later.

"It's contagious. Everybody wants to be a part of it. They want to prove their worth to their teammates. It's all the way through our lineup. It's a pretty cool thing we have right now."

Somewhere in the last few weeks, Team Pushover got fitted for chips on their shoulders. Drop a puck, and they all turn into the angry guy at the end of the bar who starts every conversation with 'What are you lookin' at?'

"It was after the San Jose game (immediately after the all-star break) that triggered it," said head coach Craig MacTavish, who lit into his team for not showing up that night.

"The one thing we can't ever be guilty of is not competing. That game stood out in everyone's mind."

They met, agreed with the coach and vowed to never let it happen again.

"We have to be committed to playing physically," said MacTavish, who is plenty pleased virtually everyone is buying in. "Guys are ready, --whether you're five-foot-five or six-foot-five, you're responsible for adding some element of physical play.

"Now it's settled into a scenario where everybody's responsible for some contribution physically. It's got us playing our best hockey."

Unfortunately, it might be too late. A win in Vancouver could have closed the gap on eighth place to four points. Now they're a loss or two from teetering over the brink.

But nobody's hanging their heads. If they're going down, they're going down together ... fighting.


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