Oilers run closes to one?

DEREK VAN DIEST

, Last Updated: 10:48 AM ET

The last time they met, the Edmonton Oilers were two games under .500, well back of the playoff contenders, and essentially left for dead.

Yet tonight, they could pull within a point of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a victory over the Minnesota Wild.

What a difference a few weeks can make.

"I think we're probably more dangerous offensively now than the last time we played them," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "The thing for us right now is the defensive side of the puck. It's nice to have the goals, but you don't want to have to score, five, six, seven or eight every night to win a game.

"So our focus right now is to reel in the defensive side of it."

The Oilers have scored 15 goals in their last two wins.

On both occasions the Oilers blew third-period leads before finally being able to pull away.

In Saturday's 7-5 win over the Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers went into the third period up 4-1 but gave up three consecutive goals in a span of 4:16.

The game may have been fun for the fans, but not so much for the coaches.

"There were parts of it that were fun," MacTavish said. "When you get the number of goals and the timeliness of the goals was pretty incredible. But it was more stressful than what we needed it to be.

"We had a couple of bad breaks that should have been managed, one went in off Denis (Grebeshkov), the other went in off (Tom) Gilbert. At least we're getting the offence where we can survive some of those breaks. But we did some things to ourselves that we have to rectify."

In their last meeting against the Wild at Rexall Place, Kyle Brodziak scored a pair of goals while Mathieu Garon turned aside 38 shots as the Oilers won 4-2. The victory got them back within a game of the break-even point, somewhere they would eventually get to before a three-game losing skid appeared to kill off their playoff hopes.

Yet having won 11 of their last 14 games, those hopes have been renewed as the Oilers go into tonight's contest three points back of the Avalanche for eighth place in the division.

"I think we have a lot more confidence than we did the last time we played them," said Gilbert. "We're playing good hockey and we have more confidence to go out there and make plays and win games."

The Oilers resurgence has been led by the team's youth, bolstered with the play of Ales Hemsky, who set up three goals in the win over the Avalanche.

Heading into tonight's contest the Wild lead the season series having won four of the six games so far this season.

"We've changed," said Oilers forward Robert Nilsson. "Minnesota is always a tough team to play, but if we just keep playing like we are, I think we can come out of here with the win.

"However, I don't think we can let in four goals against Minnesota. We have to be a little better defensively."

The Wild themselves have something to play for, currently holding on to top spot in the Northwest Division and therefore an automatic third seeding in the playoffs. However, a loss in Calgary on Saturday reduced the Wild's lead to one point over the Flames, who are in Colorado tonight to face the Avalanche. Heading into tonight's play, eight points separate the five teams in the Northwest Division.

"I think right now we're playing a lot better than we were before and we're playing with a lot more confidence," said Oilers rookie Andrew Cogliano.

"We've been scoring a lot of goals which is a good sign going into the game.

"It's more of a problem if you can't score goals. You can always tighten up defensively, but you have problems scoring goals, than can be tough to come by at this time of year."


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