SUN Hockey Pool

The morale of the story is ...

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

It's not easy putting a spring in your step after you've just been kicked in the groin.

But the Oilers don't have the luxury of curling up in a ball and waiting for the pain to go away after taking one between the pockets Thursday night.

They need to get on their feet, walk off that agonizing loss to Vancouver and rediscover their strut in time for this afternoon's do-or-die date with Colorado.

"We all felt (dejected) when we woke up in the morning," said head coach Craig MacTavish yesterday.

"You have to get over that quickly. We're approaching this much the same way I would in a playoff series ... you have to get over it and start building for the next game."

Win today and they have a slim chance of making the playoffs. Lose and they'll be free to curl up all they want.

This is it. And when the entire season boils down to one game, there's no time for self-pity.

"We're trying to keep it loose and keep a positive attitude," said rookie Sam Gagner. "At this time of the year you can't really harp on things too much because the next game matters so much."

In an effort to lift their spirits, the coaches showed the players a blooper reel from the past season, which should have been fairly easy to compile given the fact they spent much of the year in 13th or 14th place.

They all had a big laugh at themselves and each other, put the Vancouver defeat to bed for good, and zeroed in on the Avalanche.

"The coaches said don't dwell on (Vancouver)," said Dustin Penner, still chuckling at some of the season's wackiest moments.

"We had a good laugh at some of the video - it lightened everybody's day."

MacTavish knew he had to do something, given the devastating result against Vancouver.

"I thought it was appropriate timing to raise the morale of the troops as much as we could," he said. "If we'd won that game we'd all be skipping through the parking lot. (Yesterday's mood) is a little less than that, obviously.

"You try and work through the day, try and build the energy back up and maybe we'll be skipping to the parking lot Sunday, who knows? We get a win and we're in a pretty good situation again."

The numbers don't look good. Edmonton's tragic number is five (any combination of Oilers losses in regulation and Colorado wins totalling five and it's over). With 14 games left (seven each), there's virtually no room for error.

They're looking at a 5-2 finish themselves, and hoping the Avs go 2-5. And that doesn't even factor ninth-place Nashville into the equation.

"We just have to worry about our games and not look at the standings," said Penner. "If we can go 6-1, we have a good shot of making it. It's up to us to win the games that are in front of us. We can't lose (today)."

"We think we can still get in if we take care of our games," added Jarret Stoll. "And who knows, maybe we'll get some help. Maybe we won't, but you never know until you play them.

"That's the biggest strength of our team, everybody sticking together and keeping their heads up, trying to focus on the next game."

The next game is all they have right now. Lose it and the season is over.

Do they obsess over that and use it as motivation? Or is it possible to go out there free and easy, like they did with so much success during their 10-2 run?

"I don't think we play our best hockey when we're desperate and thinking about that added pressure," said Stoll.

"When we're loose and we're flying and just having fun out there, that's when we're playing our best. We need to (do that) like we'd been doing for the last two months."

It got them this far.

"It's not like we laid an egg, we played well last game," said Penner. "We just ran into Luongo, who made some key saves at some key moments. Maybe it wasn't our best game, like we had against Phoenix where we were capitalizing on our opportunities... but we have to just keep doing what we've been doing."


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