EDMONTON, Alta. -- The was not the kind of tune-up for the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic that the Montreal Canadiens had in mind.
The Canadiens warmed up for their outdoor date in Calgary by playing a little pond hockey within the cozy confines of Rexall Place -- and ended up getting burned in a 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night.
After a game that featured plenty of wide-open ice, odd-man rushes and offensive opportunities in the combined total of 65 shots on goal, the Canadiens left for Sunday's game in Calgary and the second stop of a three-game Western Canada swing with just one win in their last six games. They fell two points behind first-place Boston -- a 6-3 winner against the Islanders -- in the Northeast Division race.
"We've got a couple days to regroup," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said. "Hopefully, we get some healthy bodies back.
"It's going to be a key game on Sunday against the Flames. We know they're going well and we need some points. I think it's going to be a good experience. A lot of the guys, I think, are excited about that."
Third-period goals 15 seconds apart by Jordan Eberle and Ryan Jones broke a 1-1 tie and Nikolai Khabibulin did the rest with 36 saves as the Oilers followed up a 4-1 win over Dallas Tuesday with their second win in a row for the first time since December, when they won four straight. The Oilers beat the Canadiens 4-3 in overtime at the Bell Center Dec. 1 as part of that four-game streak.
"In the second period, yes, we got into track meet and we didn't need that," Edmonton coach Tom Renney said. "It might not look pretty, but this team is working hard enough to make sure they continue to get respect, and I think they deserve it."
The Canadiens, 1-3-2 in their last six games, will have to get their act together outdoors in front of a big crowd against a Flames team that's on a 7-1-2 roll in its last 10 games. They won't do that playing as loosely as they did against the Oilers.
"It's a challenge," Scott Gomez said. "We're in a right race and so is Calgary, so it just makes the game bigger.
"It's already a big deal, but they're one of the hottest teams, if not the hottest team, in the NHL. We're kind of going like they were for awhile before they got going and we have to find that. We'll regroup."
Ales Hemsky, who had a goal and two assists in the win in Montreal but aggravated a groin strain and missed the next 10 games, put the Oilers up 1-0 when he took a pass puck from Horcoff, danced into the high slot and snapped a shot past Carey Price 8:15 after the opening faceoff.
When Jeff Halpern banged a loose puck behind Khabibulin from a wild scramble in the goal crease to tie it 1-1 at 4:06 of the second period, the Habs were coming at the Oilers in waves. The Canadiens had a 17-8 margin in shots, but Khabibulin held the fort.
The Oilers went up 2-1 when Eberle took a pass from Hall and tucked a shot over Price on the short side 3:58 into the third. Jones made it 3-1 when he beat Price low between the legs 15 seconds later.
"We'll think about it for the plane ride," Price said of the loss. "As soon as we land, that's it. That's the last we'll think about it.
"It doesn't matter what the teams have done before. When we step on that ice, it's a brand new start. We just have to bring the right frame of mind, our lunch buckets and get after it."
Hemsky closed out the scoring into an empty net.
The Canadiens, who acquired Paul Mara from Anaheim on Wednesday to bolster their injury-riddled blue line, lost James Wisniewski eight minutes into the first period when he was hit near the left eye by a deflected puck shot by Hall.
Wisniewski didn't return, but could be available for Sunday's game against the Flames. Mara should also be ready -- he could have played against the Oilers, but his equipment didn't arrive by game time.
The Canadiens now have two days to get ready for their first outdoor game since the original Heritage Classic in Edmonton in November 2003.
"We're all looking forward to that game," defenseman P.K. Subban said. "At the same token, we know we need these points. It's great to be a part of the game, but we're going in there meaning business."
"You have to give Calgary a lot of credit. They've bean playing well. At one point, I think a lot of people in the league didn't think they'd be in the playoff picture, but they've battled. We know it's going to be a tough game for us."
1 - 0 EDM
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 EDM
3 - 1 EDM
4 - 1 EDM
Cross checking (maj)
Cross checking (maj)