The 'Little Team That Thinks It Can' still in it

Robin Brownlee
March 22 2008 05:51PM

From a February game against the Avs this season

Destiny's Team? OK, that's a bit melodramatic, but you've got to wonder if the Hockey Gods are smiling on the Edmonton Oilers after today's 7–5 win over the Colorado Avalanche at Rexall Place.

How so?

Not only have the Oilers won 11 of their last 14 games to scramble back into playoff contention in the Western Conference against all odds, they survived blowing a 4–1 lead against the Avs to move within three points of Colorado with six games to play.

Riddled by injuries, facing a double-digit deficit and written off by all but the most optimistic two weeks ago, the Oilers, the-little-team-that-thinks-it-can, the drama queens of the conference, found a way again.

Ales Hemsky turned in a magnificent performance. Hemsky had three assists and the puck on a string all afternoon. Sam Gagner, scored two goals, including the eventual winner. Even Marc Pouliot, yes Pouliot, dented twine. He hadn't scored an NHL goal in 13 months, a span of 40 games.

The D-word?

"I'm down to my last nerve, for sure," said coach Craig MacTavish. "I've been around the game for a number of years and you know these things can and do, at times, happen. Hopefully, you draw on the experience of being able to come back from it."

At 38-33-5 for 81 points, the Oilers survived another so-so game by Dwayne Roloson and three Colorado goals in a span of 2:33 in the third period to live to fight another day. Roloson's given up 13 goals in his last three starts, but the Oilers have found a way to win two of them and four of their last five.

With the Avs reeling with four straight losses, the Oilers can make next Friday's rematch in Denver matter—if they can take care of business in back-to-back games against Minnesota.

Before their frenzied third-period onslaught, the Avs had nothing going. They looked flat and disinterested in falling behind 3–0. Frankly, they look very much like a team in trouble.

"Obviously, we didn't get out to the start we wanted," said former Oiler Ryan Smyth, who got stiffed out of a goal by a quick whistle in the first period and spent the day in Roloson's kitchen.

"We've done that the last four games for whatever rhyme or reason. It's not acceptable. We can't play catch-up hockey this late in the season."

That's not catch-up hockey, Ryan. The Oilers, it seems, hold the trademark on that.

Second-guessing

Colorado coach Joel Quenneville's got 433 NHL wins on his resumé, so he doesn't need any advice from me, but his decision to give Jose Theodore the start ahead of Peter Budaj is dumbfounding.

Budaj is 5–0 against the Oilers this season and 9–1 in his career, but when the puck dropped, Theodore was crouched in the crease. That lasted exactly 14:29 as Dustin Penner, Gagner and Fernando Pisani put pucks behind him on eight shots.

It’s in the book

There's more than one way for a player to score a goal without getting a shot on net and Marty Reasoner's 7–5 goal is an example. When Reasoner was hooked with the Colorado net empty, he was awarded a goal at 19:50 without getting a shot.

If you've never seen it before, now you have.

—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer on Team 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#1 OilersNinja
March 22 2008, 06:53PM
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GO OIL GO

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#2 David S
March 22 2008, 10:13PM
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This must really be something for you to cover Robin. These guys simply cannot (or choose not to) fathom the sheer improbability of what they're trying to accomplish. Yet here they are, finding yet another way to win. Win or lose, I have to think the experience is bonding this team like nothing much else can. When I watch a game now, I find myself becoming quite proud of them as a group.

The only thing is, they're expending unbelievable amounts of energy to make the big show. I can't help thinking there's only so much gas left in the tank. Still, its amazing to watch them try!

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#3 RobinB
March 22 2008, 11:48PM
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David S: We've seen this before. more than once.

Reminds me of four or five years ago when they played like a house on fire down the stretch -- they looked done when Chris Osgood beat them in St. Louis, but they won for the fist time in forever in Dallas only to come up short in Vancouver and Nashville got in. They left nothing on the table.

This is even more improbable. As gutsy as they are, I can't help but think of all the points this team frittered away along the way and how, chances are, it will come back to bite them.

Makes for great drama, though.

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#4 mAD~mOD
March 23 2008, 01:15AM
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A phantom goal and an unbelievable streak aside it's a good story but like all good stories by writers such as Agatha Christie the forgotten detail from earlier will show up at the worst possible moment. That being the game earlier this month when the Oil Shat the bed against the Predators. It's the year of Nedved part deux, still better than last year when fans were routing for the better draft pick. But at least that turned out okay if the Oilers had an earlier pick they make not have had Sam slotted at 4th.

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#5 theoil
March 23 2008, 11:41AM
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I'm not worried about them running out of energy. Young guys don't have that problem. But Minnesota worries me. They can strangle the enthusiasm out of any game and we have to play them back to back. Still, it doesn't look like it is going to take 94 points to get in as Mirtle has been guessing. Everybody playing in their own division for the last 8 games has certainly kept the drama on full.

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