EDMONTON, AB - How much could a shootout loss help a team as it presses forward into the dog days of an NHL season? Aside from the one point that comes with it, Edmonton's 3-2 loss to the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday could mean much more to the Oilers than you'd think.
"For me, the game was about, and I don't know if it was Pittsburgh or just the Oilers, but we drew some urgency out of our group," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan.
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"Desperate hockey" is a term the Oilers have spoken about often in recent weeks. They've talked about finding desperation, witnessing desperation from other teams and then matching said desperation with their own game.
Down 2-0 to the defending Stanley Cup champs, Saturday, the Oilers chose not to fall into a spiral of turnovers and mistakes. They instead chose to look the Penguins in the eye and punch back.
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"You can't always be scared," said Oilers centre David Desharnais. "We have a good group in here and we've got to be confident and good things will happen."
Desharnais scored 4:55 into the second and the Oilers from there matched the speed, the intensity and - perhaps most importantly - the desperation of a high-flying Penguins club.
Captain Connor McDavid came through with a clutch power-play goal midway through the third to tie the game, Cam Talbot made some big saves and the Oilers managed to send a once very much in-doubt contest beyond regulation.
"There was more desperation, there was a little more passion in the game then what we had seen a few games earlier," said McLellan. "That's what happens this time of year. And when you haven't experienced it as a group - many individuals haven't been through it - the more we can get of it, the better it is."
Edmonton had chances to end the game in overtime, even with having to kill off a penalty. McDavid answered Sidney Crosby's shootout goal to tie the Penguins in the skills competition, but Phil Kessel netted the winner for Pittsburgh.
Along with the win, Pittsburgh skated away with even more respect for their foe, and how competitive the game was.
"It's not fun when they're coming at you," said Crosby.
"It was certainly one of the faster-paced games that we've played in," said Pittsburgh Head Coach Mike Sullivan.
In a lot of ways, the pushback the Oilers showed against Pittsburgh was exactly what they've wanted to see for some time.
"I think we had individuals who found something extra in their game, but as a team I think we came together a little bit more," said Oilers winger and veteran leader Matt Hendricks.
"We've been trying to find this, in my opinion, since the All-Star break. We were playing really good hockey and then we came back from the break maybe in a little bit of a lull and teams have taken advantage of us. It's that time of year where everyone seems to be ramping up their game and we need to follow and continue to push."
So how much could a shootout loss help a team? In this case, the Oilers say quite a bit.
"The Penguins brought it out of us," said McLellan. "Now it's up to us to keep it."