Oilers move above .500

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

For teams like Detroit, Dallas and Anaheim, .500 is a mole hill, an insignificant bump they step over early in the season.

For the Edmonton Oilers, it is a mountain. A big one. The steep side of Everest. Covered in grease.

"It seems like it's been a year-long struggle," said head coach Craig MacTavish.

Last night at Rexall Place, the Oilers ventured into the thin air of mediocrity one more time and, although it wasn't their best work of the season, they finally pulled themselves onto the ledge.

Edmonton lured Columbus into Mathieu Garon's wheelhouse - the shootout - and posted a 4-3 win to move one game above .500 (31-30-5).

"Every time we get close we never make the next step," said Ales Hemsky, who scored once in regulation and once in the shootout to help seal the win. "So it's a good feeling. It wasn't our best game, but we battled hard."

The Oilers played well and lost a lot of times this year, so they're not about to apologize for the blemishes on last night's barrier-breaking W.

"We're getting some good breaks and taking advantage of them, getting some timely scoring," said MacTavish, whose club gave up 38 shots on the night, and yielded the game-tying goal with 2:39 left in regulation.

"There were lots of games where we played well and talked about feel-good losses. This is maybe characterized as a feel-bad win."

Whether breaking .500 serves as a psychological foothold for an even higher ascent remains to be seen.

"It might be for some people," said MacTavish. "I never viewed it as 'OK, we're over, now we're going to string together some wins.' I never viewed it as insurmountable when we were below .500.

"We all know we're going to have to get to nine, 10, 11 or 12 games above .500 if we're going to have a fighting chance, but at least we're going in the right direction."

The last time they had a winning record was Oct. 8. Since then they've had 14 chances to reach .500 and five chances to go one game above .500.

They were 4-15 in those games before last night.

"I haven't heard much about it," said Andrew Cogliano, who opened the scoring for Edmonton and now has six points in his last four games. "It seemed like every time we did talk about it, we wouldn't win."

They've won four in a row, and seven in a row at home.

The playoffs are still a pipe dream, but as long as they keep winning they can keep gaining ground. Four or five more in a row and you can almost start looking at the standings again.

"We're not thinking about too much, we're just playing," said Cogliano. "We're just having fun out there. Guys are really feeding off the crowd. Everybody is pretty excited around the room."

It was touch and go there, for a while, after former Oiler Jason Chimera gave Columbus a 2-1 lead midway through the third period, but Hemsky and Steve Staios scored 20 seconds apart to put Edmonton ahead.

Another ex-Oiler, Dick Tarnstom, tied it at 17:21, but all that meant was overtime, and the shootout, where Edmonton is a stunning 14-3.

Where Mathieu Garon has stopped 30 of 32 shots.

Game over.

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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