Fate is all but sealed

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Did anybody actually believe the Edmonton Oilers were going to dig themselves out of the Grand Canyon?

Did anybody manage to fool themselves into believing a mere four-game winning streak and a seven-game run of wins at home was somehow going to result in a real run for a playoff position?

The math never did work.

The reality of how deep a hole the Oilers had managed to dig for themselves is that after losing their eighth straight game to the Nashville Predators over the past two years - this one by a humiliating score of 5-1 - the Oilers essentially now have two lives left with 15 games to go after going 4-1 on the homestand and now heading on the road for five of their next six.

The Oilers would now have to win every single game remaining - all 15 - to reach 97 points.

Lose one and that's 95 points.

Lose two and that's 93.

In these days of overtime and shootout loser points, 93 points might not get you a ham sandwich.

No, the question was never that this team was on some last gasp crazed break-neck drive to stay alive which finally blew up big time last night as Martin Erat had a hat trick by the 0:54 point of the second period, an accomplishment only surpassed by Geoff Sanderson being a minus three after three shifts and Marty Reasoner being minus four when Erat scored his third one.

The game was a microcosm of the season.

The Oilers dug themselves into a big hole early and couldn't climb out.

Giving up a 1-0 lead in the first 55 seconds of the first period, going down 3-0 before Erat got his hat and a 4-0 lead, this wasn't a matter of it all falling down around their ears and some sort of dream ending as the homestand came to an end.

Coach Craig MacTavish shouldn't end up with a Dead Men Skating situation like he did finishing up the season last year. There's too many talented young kids, like the NHL's newest rookie of the month Sam Gagner, who will want to keep proving what they've proved so far to lay the foundation for what we're going to watch around here in the future.

In fact we saw that when Tom Gilbert scored his 10th goal of the season to break Paul Coffey's Oiler rookie record for goals by a defenceman.

"It's a pretty nice individual accomplishment," said Gilbert. "But I sure wish it had come at a better time. Coming with a win would have been better."

You look at a guy like Gilbert, or Gagner, or Andrew Cogliano, or Robert Nilsson or Kyle Brodziak or any of the other kids and it's hard to contemplate them pulling the parachute at this point because suddenly, like everybody else in Edmonton for weeks, if not months, they know that there is not going to be a happy ending here.

They're first-year players who are in Disneyland every day. This season is all one wonderful blur for this bunch.

"Us young guys are pretty fortunate," said Gilbert.

"You don't see many NHL teams with this many young guys in the lineup.

"We all wish we'd put ourselves in a better position earlier in the year, but we're not going to have any trouble going to the arena for the rest of the year, regardless of what the standings say or don't say.

"We're living it. We're loving it."

While GM Kevin Lowe was reported to have thrown a chair in his press box bunker at one point in the third period, MacTavish was even tempered after the game.

"The score was disappointing after the first period. During the homestand we've had a lot worse first periods with a lot better results. It seemed like every time they entered our zone we were digging it out of our net," he said.

"We had a pretty good stretch with some pretty good luck. It came back to haunt us tonight," he said of some strange goals against.

"It's embarrassing to lose eight games in a row to a team," he admitted.

But he said there's no fear of a complete and total collapse of this team in the last 15 games like the Oilers had in the late 20 last season.

"From my perspective, we'll continue to move forward.

"No, I'm not worried about us going flat."

Too many terrific young talents are having too much fun breaking into the NHL for that to happen. And while watching a game like that last night was as depressing as looking at the standings, there's been too much happening for fans to go home and kick the dog.

That said, I'm going to leave them at it and go cover some curling. And figure skating. And ... what else is going on?


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