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Calgary fans celebrate as Oilers' goalie Dwayne Roloson looks on, in Edmonton, Alta., on Tuesday...

Calgary fans celebrate as Oilers' goalie Dwayne Roloson looks on, in Edmonton, Alta., on Tuesday April 1, 2008. The Flames' win eliminated the Oilers from playoff contention. (Sun Media/Darryl Dyck)

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 12:30 PM ET

The dream is dead.

But in a matter of minutes, hours or days a bigger, better one will begin to grow in the hearts and heads of Edmonton Oiler fans if it hasn't happened already.

Heads were hung, voices scratchy and eyes a little wet in the Oilers' dressing room last night after a 3-2 loss to the Calgary Flames ended their remarkable run at a playoff position in Game 81of the season.

Youth is resilient, however, and so will be the fans who will immediately fast-forward themselves to the future.

It's a future that was born here this year, much of it in the last few weeks.

In fact, when it was over, it was GM Kevin Lowe, coach Craig MacTavish and de facto captain Steve Staios who seemed to have the most trouble dealing with it.

Lowe's eyes were more red than his young players.

"It's just so disappointing the season is over," he said.

"This has been the most fun I've had since 1994," added Lowe, who won his sixth Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers that year.

A funny thing to say considering his team, two years after getting to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, just missed the playoffs.

"I'm sure everybody is proud," said Lowe. "But it's just hard right now."

MacTavish, who usually has words to cover everything in his post-game interviews, didn't have them this night.

"It's tough to deal with," he said when asked to compare this to Game 7 of the final that night two years ago in Carolina.

"The situation is a little less painful, I guess. But I don't feel that right now. I really thought we were going to get

there. I'd like to say we lived to fight another day but we didn't," he added.

"The time will come when we'll come to realize all the positives, but now is not the time for me," said Staios. "It's too hard to take the positives out of it right now. It's tough to take."

MacTavish didn't talk to the team after the game.

"Now is not the time. I'll reflect on it later."

The night started right. The Predators were down 3-0 to the St. Louis Blues at 6:48 of the first period.

And the Oilers, 26-5-3 when scoring first this year, took a 1-0 lead over the Flames.

But the Preds came back to win it in overtime. And the Oilers, despite two goals by Curtis Glencross (his eighth and ninth since joining the team on Feb. 1) both set up by great plays from Kyle Brodziak, never had the lead again.

If there was a moment which defined the season one way it was when team MVP Ales Hemsky left the game with a knee injury with nine minutes remaining in the second period.

The man-games lost to injury, if Hemsky misses the final game of the season tomorrow in Vancouver, will end up at a franchise record 347.

But that's not the one play they'll be talking about at the water cooler this morning.

As was the case in Colorado late and in the shootout, Dwayne Roloson made a mess of it with only 2.1 seconds on the clock at the end of the second period, made a great gaffe on a shot, deflecting it into his own net to give the Flames a 2-1 lead.

Two years ago, he was the hero of the Oilers' wild ride into the playoffs and all the way to the Stanley Cup final. This time he was the closest thing they had to a goat.

Brodziak, making a second great play to send Glencross in free to tie it 2-2 in the third, got Roloson off the hook for a while there.

"I didn't want us to die on the sword after the goal at the end of the second period," said MacTavish.

But today is not a day to point fingers at anybody. This is the end of a simply sensational story.

And while their heads were down in the dressing room last night, they can hold them high all the way to training camp next year and the fabulous future that is ahead of this team of talented young stars. It was a lot of fun around here this past month.

It's going to be even more fun in the immediate future.

"We've been battling so hard for the last 30 games, since Shawn Horcoff and those guys went out. It was like must win every night for the last 20 games. You want to play playoff games in Edmonton to see the way the fans are ...

I've heard so many good things about the way it is here in the playoffs.

I'm sure management is happy with the young guys. I'm sure everybody is thinking things look real good for thefuture," said Robert Nilsson.

"I think we're all going to be proud of the way we battled and the way we didn't make excuses for our injuries and especially the way we came together as a team," said 18-year-old Sam Gagner.

"This has come to an end. But we've all got to be pretty excited for the future."


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