EDMONTON - The Edmonton Oilers may be in sixth place but they have little margin for error in the bunched up Western Conference standings.
Martin Erat's third-period goal gave the Nashville Predators a 2-1 victory over Edmonton on Sunday afternoon and two valuable points the Oilers simply can't afford to give up.
Ales Hemsky scored the lone goal for Edmonton (25-21-3), which missed an opportunity to gain some ground in the Western Conference. The Oilers remain in a five-way tie for sixth in the conference with Dallas, Minnesota, Columbus and Phoenix.
"We really have to work on being more consistent," said Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert. "We don't want to fall back into the habit of winning one, losing one. Going back and forth when you are trying to catch teams for a playoff run. We have to get back on the same page again."
Edmonton head coach Craig MacTavish said his team was undone by a hungry Predators lineup, and called on his team to do the same.
"We didn't have enough jam from our role players," he said. "It was a case of the (Joel) Ward's and (Jerred) Smithson's outplaying four or five of our guys that we are counting on to do the same thing.
"To be an NHL player you have to provide some consistency. If you don't have the stats to back up a stall in that dressing room, you had better provide some jam. We didn't get enough of it early and it was our undoing."
Nashville head coach Barry Trotz agreed many of his unheralded players stepped up and made a difference in the game.
"Our team is full of guys that haven't been drafted and worked their way up and I call them True Predators," he said. "They've got a lot of fiber to their game. They might not have the stats but they have the intangibles. Our third and fourth lines always have a lot of that."
J.P. Dumont also had a goal while Pekka Rinne made 32 saves in net for the Predators (22-24-3), who jumped up to a three way tie for 10th in the Western Conference with Los Angeles and Colorado, six points out of a playoff position.
"We're trying to claw ourselves back into the group," Trotz said. "There are teams that we have to catch on this trip and getting two out of three in Canada is pretty tough. The two teams that we're really realistically chasing are Vancouver and Edmonton. So we got the right games."
The Predators won two of their three games on a Western Canadian road swing, besting Edmonton and Vancouver while losing to Calgary.
"When you have a game like that where you can drive the nail in, you have to get that game," added MacTavish. "One thing you want to show in a game like that is the intensity."
There was no scoring in the first period, the best chance coming when Nashville's Shea Weber, who was given a clear lane to the net and had his slapshot rattle off the post behind Oilers starter Dwayne Roloson.
Nashville finally broke the deadlock with eight minutes to play in the second period. Gilbert coughed the puck up to Dumont deep in Edmonton territory and he was able to bank the puck off Roloson and in.
The Predators made it 2-0 eight and a half minutes into the third period as David Legwand made a nice saucer pass to Erat and he deked out Roloson for his 13th goal of the season.
Less than a minute later, the Oilers responded as Robert Nilsson made a cross-ice feed to Hemsky and he blew a one-timer past Rinne to make it 2-1.
The Oilers put a lot of late pressure on the Preds but couldn't get another past Rinne.
Both teams are back at it on Tuesday as the Oilers close out a six-game homestand against Chicago and the Predators return home to face Phoenix.
Notes: Predators agitator Jordin Tootoo was a late scratch for Nashville after sustaining a hand injury during a fight with Todd Bertuzzi during the Predators loss to the Flames on Friday ... The Oilers had been hoping he would play, seeking retribution for a hit that took Hemsky out of the lineup for 10 games with a concussion the last time the two teams met ... Oilers assistant captain Steve Staios played his 500th career game for Edmonton ... The Predators are the only team in the league with a perfect record when leading after one period - they're 11-0.