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Oilers meet Wild for round 1

by Staff Writer / Edmonton Oilers

Game four of the Oilers' six-game road trip is tonight at the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota.

Well out of the playoff race, the Edmonton Oilers are looking to salvage something in these final three games to try and head into the summer on a positive note.

"It's tough for everybody," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish of the team's situation. "You try and put it into as proper a perspective as you can, but it's easier to say that than to live it."

MacTavish noted that he's still looking for a strong effort from the team at this point, something he saw in spurts during the team's recent 2-1 setback in Chicago.

"We have to do a better job of trying to get more out of the players. Obviously we've had quite a few failures in terms of what we've been able to get out of some of our guys and we have to be better. Our hands are on the corpse and we have to revive it."

The Oilers got off to a good start Sunday in Chicago, scoring the game's first goal, but the Blackhawks tied it up in the second period and a shorthanded marker by Patrick Sharp put the home team in front for good in the final frame.

Another motivation for the Oilers is the fact that they can put a serious dent in Minnesota's hopes for top spot in the Northwest Division with a win tonight.

The Wild are three points behind Vancouver with three games left to play. Two of those three games are against the Oilers, starting tonight.

Minnesota looked poised to overtake the Canucks until dropping their last two games in regulation time - their first such slump since late December.

"We were in position," head coach Jacques Lemaire said. "All that work we did to get there, all the work the guys did to get there and we let it go?"

"Obviously, the teams we're playing (Edmonton and St. Louis) are going to be hungry because they won't be playing in the postseason, and they'll be playing as hard as they can to protect their jobs," Wild forward Wes Walz said. "Sometimes those are the toughest games to play; we know, because we've been that team many times at the end of the season. We don't feel (the division) is out of reach."

At the other end of the spectrum, the eighth-place Calgary Flames are only two points behind Minnesota while holding a game in hand. The Wild had a chance to bury Calgary but fell 2-1 to Colorado on Saturday night.

"It's disappointing because it was a game we wanted to win, we needed to win, and the way we played didn't reflect that," defenceman Keith Carney remarked. "We came out strong, so it looked like we were focused and ready, and we didn't sustain it.

"It's disappointing that we didn't have our best in a game that we needed. If we want to win the division, that's a game we needed to have."

This is the seventh meeting of the season between Edmonton and Minnesota with the Oilers winning twice and the Wild winning four times.

ROSTER UPDATES: Edmonton – Mathieu Roy (concussion) is doubtful. Jarret Stoll (concussion) is out. Ethan Moreau (shoulder) is out. Steve Staios (knee) is out. Daniel Tjarnqvist (sports hernia) is out. Jan Hejda (shoulder) is out. Petr Nedved (knee) is out; Minnesota – Manny Fernandez (knee) is doubtful. Petteri Nummelin (leg) is doubtful.

OILERS TO WATCH: Petr Sykora and Ales Hemsky are tied for the team lead in points among active players with 52. However, Hemsky has achieved his point total in only 61 games played. Hemsky has three goals in four games since his return to the lineup on March 23... In five games since returning to the lineup, Gilbert has four assists and has led the Oilers in icetime in four of the five games. Last game, he logged a career-high 29:26 and was named a star for the third straight game.

WILD TO WATCH: Marian Gaborik has proven himself to be one of the league's best gamebreakers. Particularly this season where the Wild are 18-2-2 when he scores a goal and 30-9-6 in games where he has simply suited up. Gaborik has 29 goals in only 45 games this season... With 31 goals by Brian Rolston and 25 by Pavol Demitra, the Wild have more than two 20-goal scorers for the first time in franchise history. Pierre-Marc Bouchard (19 goals), Mikko Koivu (19) and Mark Parrish (18) are all closing in on the 20-goal mark in the final week of the season.

FAST FACTS: With 25 overtime appearances this season, Minnesota ranks second in the league in that category. They are first with 17 OT victories. 17 of those overtime games and 12 of those overtime wins have come on home ice... Minnesota is first in the NHL with a combined 2.27 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. The Wild also average the second-fewest penalties in the league at 10.5 minutes a night.
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