Oilers put pedal to metal

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

Looking back, if the Edmonton Oilers fail to make the playoffs, it'll be games like tonight's they'll be cursing.

Games where they faced teams below them in the standings, but failed to take advantage of it, and were unable to come away with two points.

Games where they did not come out aggressively enough, take the play to their opponents, and leave little doubt on the outcome.

"We have to go back to taking the shackles off our legs and get skating again," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "We got caught there for a period of time in between, which is the worst place to be. We want to get back to being more aggressive. There is a negative byproduct to that if you don't execute it well, but we needed to be aggressive in our own building and I think we've done a pretty good job of that in the last couple of games."

Heading into tonight's contest against the Los Angeles Kings, the Oilers need a victory to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

They go into the game three points back of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"I think we've changed our style a little bit, we're becoming more aggressive and getting our defencemen involved a bit more," said Oilers centre Shawn Horcoff. "By doing that, it allows us to be more aggressive. We're a better team when we play that way, and we have to start playing that way more consistently starting (tonight)."

The Kings have been eliminated from playoff contention and are already looking towards next season. That's the type of team the Oilers have had problems with this year. They've struggled to find that line between imposing their will on lower-end clubs and not allowing themselves to get overexposed.

"Teams that are out of it, they're going to play loose." Horcoff said.

"They're going to send guys, and they're going to be thinking offensively a bit more than they normally would in a tight situation. But if that's the case then it's up to the forwards to get back and backup the defencemen if the puck gets by them on the pinch."

While in control of their playoff destiny, the Oilers had a tendency to play down to their opposition, trying not to lose the game instead of going out to win it.

It wasn't until they seemingly had anything to lose when they started to play better.

"That's the thing we've been focusing on, is being aggressive," said Oilers centre Sam Gagner. "We got caught in that trap where we were sitting back too much earlier in the year and it kind of cost us.

"We're a young team and we're going to make mistakes, but if they're on the aggressive side, then they're better mistakes. That's what we've been focusing on the last couple of games and I think that's paid pretty huge dividends. Against San Jose, we felt we played pretty well and that was a tough one to lose, and against Vancouver as well.

"We're just hoping that we can keep up that same intensity, that same level of play and come up with some wins here."

Last year, the Oilers responded in a similar fashion once it appeared they had no chance of making the playoffs. That's when the team relaxed, played their best hockey and made an improbable run that fell a game short.

This season, they seemed well positioned for a playoff appearance having gone into Minnesota on a three-game winning streak, with a chance to essentially eliminate the Wild.

But despite coming out and outshooting the Wild 15-2 in the opening period of the contest, the Oilers failed to capitalize on their chances and went on to lose 3-0.

That began the slide, which now has them requiring a miracle finish.

"I think the thing we struggled with from that game was focusing on the positive things," Gagner said. "We were getting pucks to the net, and were taking the game to them. Even if we weren't scoring we needed to continue playing that way.

"In the last few games we have been playing that way. We've been doing the right things and hopefully we can keep it going."


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