SUN Hockey Pool

Leather couch time for Oilers

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

ANAHEIM -- Stay relaxed, but be intense.

Don't let the losses eat away at you, but don't shrug them off. Focus, but don't obsess. Be confident, but never overconfident. Savour the wins, just not for long. Don't beat yourself up over a bad game, but don't have a bad game.

Cripes, you need a degree in sports psychology to make it through a stretch drive these days.

And given the wild mood swings that are punctuating Edmonton's quest for a spot, it's a wonder they don't have leather couches in the dressing room instead of stalls.

"It seems like every year it's like that," said Ales Kotalik, who's also been through a few mind-bending finishes with the Sabres, too.

"Last year with Buffalo, this year, same thing. It's always like that when you're around eighth spot. Every game feels like the last game of the year. It's a big time. It's a fun time."

Fun, if it doesn't reduce you to a shrivelling mess, that is.

The pressure, the ups and downs, can suck the life out of a player if he lets it.

"The other teams are feeling it, too, everybody is," said Sheldon Souray. "Whoever is going to withstand this next little stretch the best is going to get in.

"Hopefully our experience and composure will lead us through."

The players still here from 2006 recall how, after heart-breaking losses in the playoff run, when it looked like they were cooked, they forgot about it in a matter of moments and got ready for the next game.

"We talked a lot about it in the dressing room after Phoenix," said Shawn Horcoff. "It's done, we can't focus on it. Even if we won it doesn't change how big the next games are for us, they're still four point games and we have to win them.

"We know first hand what it takes to do that. You forget about it and move on. What can you do? It's in the past."

That's why, even after crushing, inexcusable losses like the one in Phoenix, you won't hear anyone in the Oilers room stand up and say: "We're brutal, we should be ashamed of ourselves."

Staying positive, even when the results are screaming negative, is the only way to survive. They grieve for a few moments and start looking ahead to the next one.

"It stings, but you have to," said Souray. "The games you win you have to enjoy for a second and move on. There's really no other way.

"But you don't want to be too nonchalant about it either, because it's important. That's where the experience of being in this situation before can be helpful."

Of course, the best way to calm the mental and statistical storms is to, you know, win the bloody games. Nothing eases the mind like a few victories.

"The situation that we're in calls for raising the intensity level and raising the focus, that's what good teams do at this time of year," said Horcoff. "The teams that get in and the teams that go far in the playoffs are able to do that."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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