SUN Hockey Pool

Kids putting on a run

Andrew Cogliano celebrates his goal against the Wild on Monday. SUN MEDIA/Jason Franson

Andrew Cogliano celebrates his goal against the Wild on Monday. SUN MEDIA/Jason Franson

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:37 PM ET

ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- For a guy who had his team in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final two years ago, it's a whale of a statement to make.

But Kevin Lowe made it here yesterday.

"I've never been more excited about a team than I am about this team right now," he began. "In seven years as the general manager and two years coaching, this is the most excited I've been. Even more than two years ago getting to the final."

Lowe and the Edmonton Oilers had just arrived in the lobby of the elegant old Saint Paul Hotel, winners of 12 of their last 15 games and three points out of a playoff position with five games to go.

EXCITING TO WATCH

"A lot of it is just from being a fan," said Lowe. "It's exciting. It's great. It's top notch.

"It's just watching great plays. It's watching elite-thinking young players out there playing with a lot of other good players.

"We've had a lot of teams with a lot of energy at this time of year that have made great runs at it. We've had those teams from all those Dallas series. But this is a different level. You sit up there waiting for nice plays. And (you're) not waiting too long."

For Lowe, this amazing run down the stretch that has a growing number fans beginning to believe they might just be able to pull off a minor miracle - which three weeks ago was a major miracle - takes him back not two years but 29 years.

"It reminds me of our first year in the league," said the Oiler original who scored the first goal in franchise history.

"It's very similar. We won something like nine of our last 11 games and made it into the playoffs. We played Philadelphia and when it was over Bobby Clarke told everybody what a great team we were going to be," he said of that run with the greatest collection of young guns in the history of hockey.

Those Oilers were actually 8-2-1 to close in that one. Close enough.

I'll never forget it because I had to eat my column at centre ice with sauerkraut, sour cream and bitter lemon as I wrote I'd do if they made the playoffs. Used the barf bag on the flight to Philly.

"It was a young team that came together as a team, having a lot of fun and playing good hockey," said Lowe with that long-ago look in his eye.

"That group of young guys took over the team at the end of that season. That's happened here. They didn't take over the team, exactly, but all the veterans are injured, so it's worked out the same."

It's the same, too, he said, because there was the can't-wait-until next year feeling with the fans at the same time they were waiting to find out if they'd do it this year.

OPTIMISM REIGNS

That's what we're dealing with here no matter what happens in the final five games, with the Oilers or with the teams they're chasing.

"The biggest change in the last four weeks when it comes to looking at the big picture is that we're really becoming convinced we'll have the production offensively from within this group," said Lowe.

"And it's not like we're worried about any of these guys continuing to pick up where they leave off. They've all got good heads on them. I can't see much negative happening."

If you looked at the two-page weekly stats layout that runs in Tuesday's Sun, you may have picked up on something.

Edmonton leads the league in scorers in double figures. There are 12 Oilers, one more than the number of Pittsburgh Penguins - double the number of Vancouver Canucks - who have at least 10 goals. And almost all of them have upside galore.

"Sam Gagner scored one the other night that leads me to believe he'll score a lot of goals. It was a goal scorer's goal. Ales Hemsky fed him a horsebleep pass," Lowe laughed.

"Sam has a good shot and he's starting to use it now," he said of the youngest player in the league.

"It's infectious. In some respects it's even driving Hemsky," he added.

Coach Craig MacTavish picked up on that as he drifted over in the lobby.

"We've got five young guys who all become really good players almost the same month," he said.

"When a team comes together like this, it's seldom random. It's guys settling into their role and producing in their roles. The long-term prospects are exciting as well as the short term."

But first the short term.

The math still doesn't work that well, to me. But if there's one thing these guys all seem to have proven they have in common lately is that they're not any good at math.


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