SUN Hockey Pool

Playoff hopes squeezed

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:56 AM ET

DENVER -- The Edmonton Oilers crammed their whole frustrating, exhilarating, inconceivable season into one 60-minute joy ride last night in Denver: Dig an early hole, get left for dead, rally back to life and make things delightfully, agonizingly close down the stretch.

And no microcosm of their season would be complete without a shootout, of course.

Only this time, the Oilers went against their usual shootout script. They lost it, 5-4.

The best team in the NHL in penalty shots, a team that went 15-3 and wouldn't be anywhere near the post-season if it weren't for their prowess there, loses the biggest game of the year on penalty shots?

Wow. Death by irony.

"It really stings," said defenceman Steve Staios, after the Oilers stormed back from a 2-0 defict only to give up the tying goal with 5.9 seconds left in regulation. "But there's nothing we can do about it. We played a hard-fought, tough game tonight and it's disappointing, but we need everybody in here to pick ourselves up and be ready for Saturday (in Calgary).

"We've been battling, playing with a lot of heart, and we'll get ready for Saturday's game the same way."

The Oilers thought they had it won, coming back against a team that's 29-4-3 when scoring first to take a 4-3 lead late in the third. But Colorado pulled its goalie with 1:10 to play and swarmed Edmonton's net the whole time, finally tying it on Joe Sakic's goal.

"It's frustrating, but there's three games left and anything can happen," said Tom Gilbert. "You just wish there were five seconds somewhere else that had run off. We could have been three points back of Colorado, one back of Vancouver. It's really frustrating."

With Mathieu Garon 10-0 in shootouts, unavailable because of his ankle injury, the game rested on the shoulders of Dwayne Roloson, who had a pretty good night in the Edmonton net. But Avs shooters Wojtek Wolski, Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk all beat him cold.

Roloson wouldn't speak to media afterward.

"Our goalies have been there all year long for us in the shootouts and today (Colorado) made some good shots and some good moves," said Kyle Brodziak. "It's going to happen when you have the three most skilled guys on the other team coming in on your goalie. They've done a great job for us all year."

They'll have to settle for the single point.

They're now two points back of Vancouver (who lost last night) and Nashville (who won), with three games left in the season, and will need to run the table and get lots of help from the out-of-town scoreboard.

"We got the one, which is good," said Jarret Stoll. "We could have used the second one but it's over with."

The season started flashing before their eyes in a hurry, just 7:22 after the opening faceoff, in fact, when Andrew Brunette tucked a rebound past Roloson to make it 1-0.

Just 40 seconds later, Hejduk, Forsberg and Paul Stastny played tic-tac-toe with ridiculous ease and, just like that, it was 2-0 Avalanche. Gulp.

But the Oilers didn't quit when they were 11 points out and had no intention doing so in the face of a two-goal deficit. Gilbert scored at 12:13 and Jarret Stoll at 13:56 and it was all square at the first intermission.

Then it turned into last week's 7-5 shootout all over again. Curtis Glencross made it 3-2 Edmonton, Brunette tied it 3-3, Sam Gagner made it 4-3 Oilers at the second intermission. Now it's off to Calgary for tonight's Hockey Night in Canada date with the Flames. It'll be Edmonton's fourth game in six nights.

"We have to let this go and make sure we're ready," said Brodziak.

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Colorado coach Joel Quenneville played a hunch and started Jose Theodore, who got the hook last time he played Edmonton, instead of Peter Budaj, 5-0 in five starts against the Oilers this year.


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