SUN Hockey Pool

Battle of the division basement

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI

, Last Updated: 10:58 AM ET

DENVER -- It was one of those nights when both teams looked across the rink at one another, did the mental math and declared in unison "Hey, we should be able to beat these guys."

The Colorado Avalanche, without Joe Sakic, Paul Stastny and Adam Foote, haven't been world beaters lately.

The Edmonton Oilers, minus Ales Hemksy and Robert Nilsson, haven't either.

Both teams were below the playoff cutline, both were coming off a loss, both are struggling to stay above .500.

This was anybody's game to win. Or lose.

In the end, the Oilers found a way to dig it out, thanks in large part to a couple of previously silent killers - Shawn Horcoff and Mathieu Garon - who played key roles in a 3-2 victory at the Pepsi Center.

"We haven't done a great job in the third period a lot of times on the road, but we ended up getting a good break to win it," said Oilers coach Craig MacTavish. "It was a good hard-work game by us. The guys worked hard, really wanted the game badly."

Horcoff, who hadn't scored in the previous nine games that Ales Hemsky's been out with a concussion, popped the third-period winner and Garon, who hadn't started since Dec. 30, stopped 37 of 39 Colorado shots.

"I've actually felt pretty good the last three or four games," said Horcoff, who took a back-door feed from Grebeshkov and found some daylight in a crowded Avalanche crease. "But when things don't start going in you start squeezing the stick a little bit. I was trying to get more pucks to the net tonight (seven shots) and when you do that good things happen."

MacTavish says Horcoff's role has changed a bit since Hemsky's been down, to more of a shutdown centre and penalty killer.

"He played the whole game, all those penalties in the third I couldn't get him off the ice. He's ended up in a different role the last little while so the offence has not been a real expectation."

Garon, who hasn't been in any role lately, other than spectator, looked a little slow and shaky early. He got some help from a couple of goal posts and didn't look great on Colorado's second goal, but the numbers don't lie: A road win on a night when the other side had 39 shots.

"Sometimes it's hard when you don't play much, but as the game went on I started to feel better," said Garon, who'd lost eight of his last 10 starts and hadn't posted a victory since Dec. 5 in L.A. "I've been feeling good. The last two weeks I've been practising more, full practices, (while Jeff Deslauriers was down in the minors) and it helps a lot."

The Oilers, looking to go 2-1 on their three-game road trip, scored first, on a Steve Staios point shot at 2:10 of the first period and went up 2-1 on a nice goal by Tom Gilbert.

Colorado made it 2-2 on a second period softy - T.J. Hensick's short side with a wrist shot from the right faceoff dot at 12:28.

Garon was solid as a rock after that, though.

"We have a lot of faith in Mathieu,"said Horcoff. "He's been working really hard for us. It was nice to see him geet that win."

"He looked a little rusty as you would expect," said MacTavish. "But then he settled right in, played great, made a couple of huge saves."

And got a win when they needed it most.

"It's huge, especially after losing a divisional game (Thursday) night against Minnesota." said Horcoff.

"The race is really tight. This is the time of year where teams start to separate themselves a little but, so these games are huge."


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