Wild tightens screws

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 6:51 AM ET

Too little, too late.

It was the story of the Oilers' 3-2 loss to Minnesota last night.

And it's starting to look like the story of the season.

Who knows if it's too late -- the loss dropped the floundering Oilers to 10th place -- but they're definitely giving too little down the stretch.

It's absolutely incredible that the Oilers could be so lifeless in a game that meant so much to their playoff lives, but there they were, lollygagging their way through the first two periods, falling behind 2-0 against a team you don't want to fall behind against, and coming a goal short in their third-period comeback attempt.

If they play the first 50 like they played the last 10, if they play even half the game like it mattered to them, they win it easy.

"We finally came out of our comfort level, whatever that is, after two periods and played better in the third," said head coach Craig MacTavish.

"But too many guys are too content to be a non factor, rather than be a factor and step up and make a play and be assertive in a game we desperately need.

"With six games left we're still looking for a team that will take charge of an opportunity. There were some pretty good examples of some guys who played with intensity and passion in the game, but not enough."

The third and fourth lines battled hard, but MacTavish didn't get much from his top six forwards, save a third- period goal that was too little and too late.

The home-ice loss was their fourth in the last five games, and in the one game they did win they were outshot 54-20.

Hardly the signs of a team that's trying to make a playoff charge.

"We have to realize that we have to play 60 minutes of hockey, not just 20 minutes at the end," said Ales Kotalik, who scored for the fourth game in a row.

"We shouldn't start a game like that. We weren't good enough in the first 40. We have to realize that at this part of the season we have to play every shift. It's frustrating to come up short again. We all have to be better to even stay in the hunt for the playoffs."

And now time is running out. The Oilers play five of their last six games at home, but with just five wins in their last 14 home games, that might not be a good thing.

"We have to find a way to overcome it," Shawn Horcoff said of the slump. "If we win this game we put ourselves in a good position again. We have to be able to respond. I thought we showed some good energy and effort in the third, but in the last five games there have been a couple of instances like that, just not enough."

The Oilers did exactly what you're not supposed to do against Minnesota - fall behind early - but goals by Andrew Brunette and Martin Skoula put them in a deep hole.

So did wins earlier in the day by Nashville and St. Louis and Anaheim.

Trailing 2-0 against a team that protects leads like the Wild does, it didn't look good.

Edmonton caught a breath of life with Fernando Pisani's goal at 1:04 of the third, but three minutes later Marian Gaborik restored the two-goal cushion. Kotalik scored at 15:08 but that was it.

Too little, too late.

"There just wasn't the level of urgency we needed in that hockey game," said MacTavish. "We finally got moving in the third period and you saw the result."

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THE GREAT RACE

WESTERN CONFERENCE

GP Pts

6. Columbus 76 86

7. Nashville 76 84

8. St. Louis 76 83

9. Anaheim 76 82

10.Edmonton 76 81

11. Minnesota 76 80

12. Dallas 75 75


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