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Oilers meet Blue Jackets tonight in Columbus

by Staff Writer / Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers fifth game of their seven-game cross-border road swing finds them back in the United States tonight and ready to face off against the Columbus Blue Jackets (4:45 p.m. MST, Oilers PPV).

So far, through four games the Oilers have lost only two in regulation – thats the good news. The bad news is, the team is still looking for its first outright win with an overtime loss and shootout loss on the trip.

"We have to continue to play with the sense of desperation that we played for 50 minutes (in Ottawa). The first 10 minutes they kind of stormed us a bit but after that we turned the tide," said Oilers assistant coach Billy Moores. "We have to carry that same type of determination and sense of urgency into Columbus."

Last game against Ottawa, the Oilers were trailing 2-0 heading into the third period and again 3-1 late in the game but a goal by Petr Sykora with 4:12 to play followed by a Tom Gilbert marker with 20 seconds left tied the game up.

"It was as good a feeling as Ive had on the bench when that third one went in," remarked head coach Craig MacTavish.

The goal by Gilbert was the first in his NHL career.

"I was just trying to be patient. I knew the guys on the ice were so skilled that I just tried to get myself open on the ice. Hemsky found me backdoor, it was a great pass by him," said Gilbert. "Nice to get a goal at such a crucial time in the game.

The Oilers are currently tied with Colorado for ninth in the Western Conference – eight points back of eighth-place Calgary and nine behind Minnesota for seventh.

Its been a tale of three seasons for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

After a slow start that saw the team open the season with a 6-16-2 record, the Blue Jackets started to turn things around under replacement head coach Ken Hitchcock.

They went 15-9-3 in their next 27 games but injuries to goaltenders Fredrik Norrena and Pascal Leclaire helped cause another tailspin.

Columbus is 2-6-1 in its last nine and is now two points out of the conference basement but head coach Ken Hitchcock is encouraged by the teams play of late.

"We played really well the last three games. Were playing about as well as we can play five-on-five right now," Hitchcock said. "The biggest thing is were not clearing the puck. Weve had chances to get it out of the zone, and were getting stripped. And right now, every time we fail to clear the puck it ends up in our net."

In their last game, the Jackets played a back-and-forth affair against division rivals, the St. Louis Blues. After blowing a pair of leads, they had to rely on a Rick Nash desperation marker with 13.5 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. Nothing was solved in the extra frame and the Blues ultimiately prevailed in the shootout.

"We were up 1-0, and 3-2, and we couldnt finish the game," Blue Jackets goaltender Fredrik Norrena said. "That drives me crazy. Of course, it would maybe help if I stop a shot in the shootout, too."

The Blues netted three power play goals in their 5-4 shootout win and the Jackets were less than thrilled with the games officiating.

"Im not even going to judge our team on tonight," Blue Jackets captain Adam Foote said. "It was just one of those games. If I say anything more, Im going to get in trouble."

Tonight's game will be available on pay-per-view via Shaw Digital Cable, Star Choice and Bell Expressvu. If you don't have any of those three service providers you can still catch tonight's game at one of four participating Cineplex Odeon, Galaxy or Silver City theatres.

ROSTER UPDATES: Edmonton – Ethan Moreau (shoulder) is out. Jarret Stoll (concussion) is out. Fernando Pisani (concussion) is out. Petr Nedved (knee) is doubtful. Daniel Tjarnqvist (inflamed pubic bone) is questionable. Columbus – Pascal Leclaire (knee) is out. Duvie Westcott (upper body) is out.

OILERS TO WATCH: Tom Gilbert had another strong game for the Oilers on Tuesday night. In addition to tying the game late with his first career NHL goal, he had a +2 rating in 17:06 of icetime. In three games with the Oilers, Gilbert has a +3 rating. Edmonton now has a record of 2-0-1 with Gilbert in the lineup even though all three times he dressed were road games Petr Sykoras game has been steadily improving over the month of February and it exploded on Tuesday night with a big two-goal performance. Sykora has two goals and six assists for eight points in his last seven games.

BLUE JACKETS TO WATCH: Goaltender Fredrik Norrena is expected to get the start in goal tonight with Pascal Leclaire on the shelf. The last time Norrena faced the Oilers, he shut them during a 4-0 Jackets win at Rexall Place. The 34-year-old rookie has a record of 15-13-6 with a 2.96 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 36 appearances The line of Rick Nash, Alexander Svitov and David Vyborny made a big splash last game versus the Blues, generating a ton of chances and resulting in goals by both Vyborny and Nash. They will remain together tonight. "That line was terrific," said Hitchcock.
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