SUN Hockey Pool

And the beat goes on

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 6:53 AM ET

Two nights ago the Oilers played like zombies for 40 minutes, fell from eighth to 10th and had to spend the next 48 hours listening to everyone question their heart and character.

It hurt.

Last night, they finally played with fire and hunger at the start, throwing everything they had at Anaheim ... only to discover that their best isn't good enough.

And that hurts worse.

"Overall we played with the passion we needed to play with to start the game," said head coach Craig MacTavish, after a 5-3 loss to the Ducks that is as painful a defeat as they've felt all year.

"It was a good energetic start, the building was alive. But we were unable to sustain it in the second with some of the penalties we were taking."

It was Edmonton's fifth loss in six games and puts the season in critical condition. Three points back of eighth place with five games left, the Oilers are now down to miracles.

It wouldn't take a miracle for a desperate team to win five in a row; it'll just take a miracle for the Oilers, the way they've been going, to run the table.

"If these teams lose two in a row and we win two in a row, all of a sudden we're back in the playoffs again," said Shawn Horcoff.

"We have to look at the bright side. Until you're mathematically eliminated you have to strive forward, you have to believe it can happen."

Determined to prove they're better than the guys who mailed it in against Minnesota on Sunday, the Oilers came out hard, with Andrew Cogliano making it 1-0 midway through the first period, followed immediately by a couple of spirited fights: Steve Staios taking on Bobby Ryan at 10:13 and Zack Stortini and George Parros dropping the gloves at 10:14.

But the Ducks have some heart of their own and came back to tie it on Sheldon Brookbank goal at 14:13.

Then it unravelled.

Three straight Anaheim goals in the second - two on the power play - broke Edmonton's back.

"A lot of the game we played really well," said Ethan Moreau. "We were physical, we stood up for one another, good hits, good fights, went to the net a little harder. There's going to be games where you have to get four or five goals to help Roli out ... and we haven't found that offensive output yet."

The typical Oilers tease came late in the third, as it so often has this year, with Denis Grebeshkov scoring at 16:33 and Stortini at 17:49 to make it 4-3.

MacTavish then called Teemu Selanne for an illegal stick that turned out to be legal, leaving Edmonton shorthanded for the final two minutes. That led to Rob Niedermayer's empty-net goal to ice it at 5-3.

The coach took full responsibility.

"We had what we thought was some really good information," he said.

"I was that sure that I made the call. It was a terrible mistake."

It shouldn't have come down to needing three goals in the last 3:27 to tie it, though. The difference wasn't in hunger or effort this time, it was at the top end, where Anaheim's best players ate Edmonton's best players for lunch.

Scott Niedermayer had three points, Ryan Getzlaf two, Ryan and Chris Pronger had singles.

Through 40 minutes, Ales Hemsky didn't even have a shot on net. Neither did Horcoff.

"Horc, in the two Anaheim games, we've taken him more out of an offensive role and had him as a shutdown guy, predominantly against the Getzlaf line," said MacTavish.

"We've cut him back on the power play, too, so he hasn't had the quality offensive minutes. They've played alright; it's the external offence that's dried up."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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