DENVER - You gotta want it.
And the Edmonton Oilers do.
But there’s a big difference between wanting it and needing it, between fighting for points that don’t really matter and fighting for your life.
The Oilers, whose post-season aspirations have been cold on the slab for months, are discovering this more and more frequently down their defeat-plagued stretch drive.
“You can definitely tell they’re in a playoff race, these teams,” said winger Taylor Hall, after Edmonton lost another tug-of-war with an opponent that needed the victory more than they did.
“They know that their life kind of depends on every point they get. When we play these teams we have to be extra motivated. Even though we’re not in the playoff race we have to be motivated to win, to get that feeling in the room afterward and feel good about ourselves.”
In Saturday afternoon’s 3-2 shootout loss in Denver the Oilers ran into another team whose entire season might have well been riding on the result, and it showed. The Avalanche began the day in a three-way tie for ninth, two points out of the final playoff spot while the Oilers were still smarting from Thursday’s blown chance to move up to 28th.
Guess who had the extra adrenaline?
“I don’t want to say we eased our way into the game, but there was a little trepidation in the way we started,” said head coach Tom Renney, whose club played hard a lot of the game, but took just enough shifts off to let it get away. “Then we realized we could win this here if we manned up and played with a little more intensity.
“During the second period that’s all I was talking about behind the bench: elevate the intensity level, let’s get hungry here, let’s get the battle level elevated. You could see that we were vanilla.
“They’re trying, but it’s amazing how much is left when you really push yourself.”
The Oilers, some six years removed from their last playoff season, might not even know what true desperation and intensity really are. Maybe their version differs some from the teams that actually make it into the top eight.
“I think we have to be careful that we don’t kid ourselves,” said Renney. “We’re out of the playoffs for a reason and one of those reasons is inconsistency with our intensity and desperation and urgency that, quite honestly, we can play with.”
Manufacturing artificially what is coming naturally to their opponents every time they see a set of standings is going to be tough, but if it doesn’t happen, funeral March here we come.
“You have to find motivation at this time of year when you’re in the situation we are, and find ways to motivate yourself and the team or it can get pretty ugly pretty quick,” said Shawn Horcoff. “We’ve been through that before and we’re not going to let that happen again.
“We’re a proud team and we want to finish strong. We take motivation from trying to finish the season hard. They’re a team that’s battling to get in the playoffs and we could knock them out.”
To Edmonton’s credit, they rallied back from 2-1 down in the third period, and from an iffy call that disallowed an Ales Hemsky goal, to force overtime.
It’s not a win, but it’s something.
“The way we fought right to the end is a good stepping stone for us to grow as a team,” said Sam Gagner. “No matter what happens, we want to be that way.”
The Oilers kept coming, and sent it to overtime when Taylor Hall battled hard, with guys all over him, to bang in a rebound with 4:43 to play.
Jordan Eberle, who had two assists and was plus-1 in 21:39 of ice time, set up the play.
“Our young horses are horses, there’s no two ways about that,” said Renney. “They love to play, they bring great energy and enthusiasm and a wherewithal you’d think only veterans would have.
“On top of that, Hallsy is such a competitor, and so driven, he’s going to find a way, and he did. He helped us get a point (Saturday).”
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