VANCOUVER, BC - The Oilers have one last game to close out the 2014-15 season and it takes place in Vancouver tonight against the playoff-bound Canucks.
“We just want to finish strong,” said Jordan Eberle. “You want a good taste in your mouth going into the off-season. Obviously, this season didn’t go the way that we wanted it to but at the end of the day, you’ve just got to try and finish strong here and feel good about yourself, your team and your game. Because there is really nothing after this.”
With the playoffs out of reach for Edmonton, one might think there is a sense of relief in the locker room to see the season come to a close. But that isn’t the case for the players.
“No sense of relief at all,” said Eberle. “I think as a professional hockey player you love playing hockey, it’s what I love to do. You’re a little pissed off this season is over and you’re not continuing playing in the playoffs. All you can do is play hard here and finish hard.”
The Oilers expect the game to be similar to others against the Canucks in the past few seasons.
“I think it’s generally a team that we don’t get along with too well, that’s no secret,” said Luke Gazdic. “We’ve had some battles with them over the last couple of years. Every time we play them it’s usually an intense battle. These are games we like to get up for and that I like to play in so I’m looking forward to it.”
HENDRICKS IS BACK
The Oilers are still without Andrew Ference, Boyd Gordon, Iiro Pakarinen, Mark Fayne, Nikita Nikitin or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. They do however, get back Matt Hendricks who will slide into the middle of the fourth line between Gazdic and Rob Klinkhammer. Curtis Hamilton will come out of the lineup.
Hendricks provides so much more to the Oilers than a fourth-line presence. Getting him back on the ice for the final game is big.
“We all see how he plays on the ice,” said Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson. “You know what you’re going to get every night. You’ll get an honest effort. He’ll work hard and he’s a leader on the bench. What people don’t see is how he is in the room. He’s a leader. he’s a glue guy, he has a voice in the room and there’s a lot more life on the ice when he’s in the lineup.”
Todd Nelson is 17-22-6 since stepping behind the bench as the solo head coach, with the interim tag.
“I think Nelly has come in and done a good job in terms of getting us the way we need to play but we need to find that consistency,” said Hendricks.
When Nelson looks back at his time coaching the Oilers during the second half of the season, he feels like it was a success in some ways. The team played much better in the second-half stretch and won 10 more games than the previous part of the season.
“I have no regrets,” said Nelson. “I think there’s something to build on here. It’s still a long ways to go, obviously. There have been a lot of ups and downs. When you see our team go out there and play extremely well, you think you’re turning the corner but we want more consistency. I’m pretty happy with how things went. We’ll see what happens.”
The Oilers players want to play hard tonight against the Canucks for different reasons. Closing out the season on a high note for Nelson is one of them. Pride and job security are two others.
“Just play with a little pride here,” said Gazdic. “We’re playing for a coach that has done a lot for us. Guys are playing for jobs at the end of the day and there are young guys trying to cement themselves into permanent roles coming into next year. There are different things for everybody, but for me it’s a sense of pride and being able to go home this summer and having this as your last memory knowing you left everything you had on the ice.”
QUICK NOTES: The Oilers are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games against the Canucks. Teddy Purcell has three points (1-2-3) in four games against Vancouver this season. The Canucks are second in the league on the penalty kill (85.7%). Ben Scrivens starts in net.
-- Chris Wescott, edmontonoilers.com
OILERS (24-44-13) at CANUCKS (47-29-5)
Season series: The Vancouver Canucks are going for a five-game sweep of the Edmonton Oilers, who are making their first visit to Rogers Arena since losing in a shootout Oct. 11. Daniel Sedin's three assists in that game helped the Canucks overcome three two-goal deficits.
Oilers team scope: Edmonton activated goaltender Viktor Fasth from injured reserve and sent Laurent Brossoit to Oklahoma City of the American Hockey League. The move came one day after Brossoit made 49 saves in a 3-1 home loss to the San Jose Sharks, a performance coach Todd Nelson called, "one of the best efforts I've seen all year." Fasth hasn't played since injuring his knee on Feb. 16 but could be in goal against the Canucks.
Canucks team scope: Vancouver did not practice on Friday, but said on Twitter goaltender Ryan Miller will start. Miller sustained a knee injury on Feb. 22 and hasn't played since, though he dressed as the backup to Eddie Lack on Thursday in a 5-0 victory against the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Arena. The Canucks will face the Calgary Flames in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they'll know before the game whether they've locked up the home-ice advantage for that series. Vancouver leads Calgary by two points; if the Flames win their road game against the Winnipeg Jets in the afternoon, the Canucks will need to get a point to earn home ice.