SUN Hockey Pool

Can't beat Backstrom

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

ST. PAUL -- The Edmonton Oilers deserved a better fate.

But sometimes deserve has nothing to with it.

The Xcel Energy Center has never been kind to the Oilers, and despite playing one of their best games on the road against the Minnesota Wild, they still lost 3-0 yesterday.

"We had all our opportunity in the first period and got nothing out of it," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "We were a little unlucky with all the rubber we put to the net. We were sharp early but (Niklas) Backstrom was good."

The Oilers came into the contest having lost their previous nine in Minnesota. But with a chance to pull away from their division rivals in the standings, and put a serious damper on their playoff hopes in the process, the Oilers came out looking to bury the Wild early.

However, despite out-shooting the Wild 15-2 in the opening frame, they could not beat Backstrom, who routinely gets pulled when facing the Oilers in Edmonton, but has never lost to them at home and rarely gives up a goal.

Yesterday, Backstrom turned away 36 shots to record his fourth shutout against the Oilers and post his 10th win at home against them.

"We looked sharp early," MacTavish said. "Then we took ourselves out of it with some penalties in the second period and they gained some momentum.

"Then in the third period, we really struggled to maintain anything offensively. You hate to see the 30-plus shot shutouts. It means you are getting enough pucks to the net, but you have to be committed enough there, that you should be able to get some offence."

Robert Nilsson had an early opportunity to score in the first period, as former Oilers defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron handed him the puck in the slot.

Nilsson tried to beat Backstrom with a low wrist shot, but was stopped. Later in the period, Patrick O'Sullivan re-directed a Shawn Horcoff pass off the post. Then off a mad scramble in front of the Wild net, Fernando Pisani got hold of the puck, but hit Ethan Moreau with his shot keeping it out of the net.

"I think if we score in the first period, it's a different story," said Horcoff. "But he (Backstrom) played really well. They then came out hard in the second and made a game of it.

"For us, we obviously would have liked to get the win, but it was a good effort, it's not as though we didn't play well."

Yesterday was the first time the Oilers have lost in regulation and not picked up at least a point since March 5, when they fell 4-2 in Ottawa.

In the second period, the Wild came out stronger and had most of the early chances. Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert cleared the puck off the line behind goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who later stopped Owen Nolan on a breakaway.

The Wild, however, did eventually beat the Oilers goaltender as Nolan got hold of a loose puck in front on the power play and slid it into the net.

The Oilers had a number of chances to tie the game before the end of the frame, but with seconds remaining, gave up a three-on-one rush, which Antti Miettinen failed to convert on.

The Oilers came out hard looking for the equalizer in the third, but it was the Wild who would score on their first shot of the period as Nolan converted a feed from James Sheppard. The Wild increased their lead when Tom Gilbert pulled a Steve Smith and hit Sam Gagner with an outlet pass, which bounced in past Roloson.

The goal was credited to Stephane Veilleux.


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