They're true believers

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

They all watched the games. Couldn't stop themselves.

They all admitted it was a little depressing. But then the Edmonton Oilers came to practice yesterday, all full of vim, vigour - and hope.

There was absolutely no sign of pressure, knowing that on their day off their situation had worsened, and that tonight could be The End.

A Nashville win and an Edmonton loss and that's all, folks. But there was no sign that anything in their world had changed as a result of Nashville taking a point out of Detroit and Vancouver taking two against Calgary on Sunday.

If you watched this ridiculously young team practise, and didn't know the results of the night before, you'd have figured the opposite had happened.

"They're a pretty pragmatic, realistic and energetic young group," coach Craig MacTavish said at the end of the session as the team on the 13-4-1 run returned to Rexall Place ice with Stayin' Alive still the theme for their dream and Journey's Don't Stop Believing blaring in the dressing room.

"Their energy, enthusiasm and appreciation of their first year in the league is infectious to everybody, the coaches, the management, the media ..."

STRESSED FLAMES

Play-by-play broadcaster Rod Phillips's favourite expression is "no place for a nervous person" - and it's hard to find one around the Oilers dressing room going into Game 81 tonight against a suddenly stressed Calgary Flames outfit that has been pulled back into the mix.

Robert Nilsson said so much of this is about so many players having their first full NHL season together.

"It's our first year. We didn't really have any expectations from the start," he said. "We just want to be here. It's just fun playing. We don't think we have to have pressure."

De facto captain Steve Staios spent 10 minutes after the practice trying to explain the mood and attitude around this team, which doesn't seem to spend a second thinking about the fact they went 0-4 against Nashville this year, lost four to Vancouver and gave the Canucks a shootout loser point in the other three, or that they're 11-15-3 against Northwest Division teams.

"We've gotten this far," said Staios. "We've still got a chance to make the playoffs. The reason we're in this position has a lot to do with our attitude. We just keep feeling good about ourselves and enjoying it."

STAIOS TUNED IN

Staios said if any of the kids had asked him, he would have told them not to watch the Nashville-Detroit or Vancouver-Calgary games Sunday. But they didn't ask him. And he watched them himself.

"I tried to avoid it, but I couldn't," he said.

"You don't want to worry about something that's out of your control. It's better not to watch. I tried not to, but it was pretty much impossible. But we all came back, and it's business as usual. We're loose. It's the type of environment we want here.

"We're just thinking of the positive. It's no good thinking of the rest of it. At the end of the season we can digest what happened. It's a waste of time and energy to do that now."

Kyle Brodziak said he was glued to his TV on Sunday.

"I watched both games. It was pretty tough watching. Every time Detroit had a chance, I'd get excited," he said.

Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Tom Gilbert and Nilsson all watched the games together at the Gagner-Cogliano-Gilbert apartment and then at The Keg.

"We were counted out a month ago," Cogliano said of getting over the double whammy. "We're young guys along for the ride, and we don't know too much. The veterans are keeping it loose for us. They know. But it's pretty cool for us. We're winning. We're not thinking of the negative side."

Gilbert said they're not ignorant of the kind of thinking the other teams are probably dealing with.

"You always look back at this time of year and think 'Man, that game was so important!', he said of some of those losses early before this team came together.

"But with us, we've been doing the same thing all the way along. Just go out and play. All we can do is win the next two games. That's why it's been going so well."

Gagner, the 18-year-old with the 28-year-old head on his shoulders, said it's different with this team than the others in the scramble for playoff positions in the West.

"For us, we're the team that's chasing."

They've been the team that's been chasing for so long now they've created a template for it.


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