SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers keeping even keel

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In reality, three victories on this latest road trip would have been a stretch.

Not when the Edmonton Oilers were going up against one of the best teams in the league, and into a building they rarely win in.

"I think this trip is maybe a smaller version of what the season has been like," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "We battled hard, we quite clearly were not good enough against one of the elite teams in the league, but among the group of 12 teams that we're grouped in with in the Western Conference, we're competitive. We've just come up short against the best teams in the league."

The Oilers had a win, a loss and a shootout loss to show for their three-game, four-day excursion through St. Louis, Detroit and Minnesota.

Generally coming out .500 on a road trip is considered acceptable and anything above that is a bonus. But with the Oilers fighting for their playoff lives, mediocrity at this stage won't cut it.

"We got three points on this trip in three tough buildings," said Oilers captain Ethan Moreau. "Even St. Louis was tough, they're going to surprise a lot of people down the stretch, it's tough to win in their building.

"We were able to win there, we played hard in here (Minnesota) and Detroit is Detroit. It's tough to evaluate our trip right now, but if you throw out the first 20 minutes in Detroit, I thought we competed very hard on this road trip."

TOUGH LOSS

The 8-3 loss in Detroit was sandwiched between a shootout win in St. Louis and a shootout loss in Minnesota.

The Oilers conceded five goals in the first period against the Red Wings and were left to play for pride for the remainder of the game.

"For us coming in here on the second game of a back-to-back, even though we lost 8-3 against Detroit, we expended a lot of energy in the second and third trying to prove to ourselves that we could get back in the game," said Moreau. "It was a tough building for us to come into after that. I'm pretty happy with the way we responded after a bad loss. We competed, we were physical, but they competed hard as well, so it was a good game."

Three points will help the Oilers stay within the pack battling for the final four playoff spots in the conference, yet the team still needs to string a few victories together in order to solidify a spot in the post-season.

LOOKING FORWARD

"You want points any way you can get them," said Oilers centre Sam Gagner. "To get at least a point in a divisional game is big for us, especially on the road. From here on in, every game is important.

"We've had some tough losses of late, but the more we dwell on them, the more it's going to hurt us going forward. At this point, we can't dwell on them too much. We just have to focus on the next game and what we have to accomplish and hopefully we can go on a good stretch run."

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THREE STARS

Mikko Koivu, Min

Dangerous all afternoon, set up the second goal and scored the shootout winner.

2. Dwayne Roloson, Edm

Solid throughout the contest, especially in overtime and finished with 37 saves.

3.Sheldon Souray, Edm

Scored on a bullet from the point and had a number of other quality opportunities.

WHY THEY LOST

They played a pretty good patient road game required in Minnesota, but couldn't convert on enough of their scoring opportunities to pull out the victory.

PLAY O' GAME

Late in the third, Robert Nilsson feeds a pass over to Ladislav Smid, who cuts to the net, taking out goaltender Niklas Backstrom in the process and leaving a juicy rebound with a wide open net for Sam Gagner to tie the game.

SAVE O' GAME

Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson stopped Eric Belanger on a breakaway in overtime to get the game into a shootout.


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