DENVER, CO - The Oilers find themselves in the Mile-High City feeling the lowly dissatisfaction of a season without playoff hockey.
It's the second consecutive year the Oilers have failed to qualify for the postseason.
"It's definitely frustrating," said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who's had a career-year with new benchmarks in goals and points with 28 and 65. "We've been pushing really hard here the last 20 or so games to try and claw our way back in but couldn't quite get there. It's definitely disappointing."
Edmonton's fate was decided in the first period versus the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday when the Colorado Avalanche secured a single point against the St Louis Blues. The Oilers have an opportunity to spoil Colorado's playoff party, somewhat, now that they are entering their barn.
"It sucks, obviously," said Darnell Nurse, who has also navigated a career year with eight goals, 31 assists and 39 points. "Your only goal is to give yourself a chance to battle in the playoffs… Obviously, Colorado is fighting for their playoff lives here and they're going to bring a type of intensity that we need to match."
The message now is to play with dignity and play for each other, in hopes that the team can end the season on a positive note with a few wins.
"We all have pride and all have a lot of character on this team," added Nurse.
FRUSTRATION TO DETERMINATION
Following Monday's loss, Oilers Captain Connor McDavid was visibly upset and didn't hold back on letting his frustration level be known. The players feel the same way as their captain and Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock believes that emotion can fuel determination over the off-season.
"To me, if you're frustrated, it usually gets replaced sometime during the summer by determination," Hitchcock said Tuesday. "We've had a lot of guys have career years and they're really disappointed. They wanted to keep playing.
"You're going to get that emotion. You're going to get it from players, from coaches, from management. It's because you pour so much into it."
There's no solace in the fact that a handful of Oilers have performed to new heights. In hockey, it's all about the collective.
"Everyone feels the same," said Nurse. "Everyone has the same goals. We're all competitors. You come into a season and your goal is to get a chance to fight in the playoffs. There have been too many years that we haven't given ourselves that opportunity. We need to figure it out."
Hitchcock confirmed Jujhar Khaira and Kyle Brodziak will remain out of the lineup due to injuries and Mikko Koskinen will start in goal against the Avs.
The bench boss didn't specify which defenceman is banged up but did say Kevin Gravel could suit up if that defender can't play.
Lines will be made apparent at warmups.
-- Paul Gazzola, EdmontonOilers.com
OILERS (34-36-9) at AVALANCHE (36-29-14)
TV: 7:00 p.m. MDT; Televised on Sportsnet West
Tonight's game is the third and final meeting of the campaign between the Oilers and Avalanche. The season series is split 1-1, as the Avs handed Edmonton a 4-1 defeat at Rogers Place on Nov. 11. The Oilers replied by winning on the road against Colorado in December by a score of 6-4.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl each have three points versus the Avs this season. Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog have six and five points against Edmonton this year, respectively.
Oilers team scope:
The Oilers were officially eliminated from playoff contention on Monday during the first period of their game against the Golden Knights, which they lost 3-1. A point gained by the Colorado Avalanche against the St. Louis Blues cemented Edmonton's fate, as the club sat eight points out with only four games remaining prior to Monday's action.
"Over the course of the next little while, we got to figure out what we need to do to help these guys get better," said Oilers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock post-game Monday. "Whether that's personnel or whatever, we need to do whatever we can to help these guys get better."
Edmonton has three games remaining and will conclude their season against the Calgary Flames on Saturday.
Avalanche team scope:
The Avs overwrote a 2-0 deficit against the St. Louis Blues to force overtime then the shootout, ultimately falling 3-2 in the skills competition. The squad is 3-0-2 in their last five and 6-2-2 in the last 10.
Colorado is two points up on the Arizona Coyotes for the final Western Conference wild card, with a 36-29-14 record and 86 points.
Nathan MacKinnon leads the Avalanche in goals and points with 39 and 96, respectively. Rantanen is behind him with 87 points.
By the Numbers:
Colorado is 8-24-8 when their opponent scores first. ... The Avs own the seventh-best power play in the League overall, going 62-for-277 for a percentage of 22.4 percent. ... The Oilers have the ninth-best man advantage in the League, going 46-for-217 (21.2 percent). ... Edmonton is 30th in the League on the penalty kill, suppressing 74.4 percent of their penalties. ... McDavid has 17 points (8G, 9A) all-time against the Avs. ... Leon Draisaitl has 16 (5G, 11A) in 11 games vs. COL. ... Avs defender Tyson Barrie has 18 points (7G, 11A) in 19 career outings against the Oil.
OILERS - Jesse Puljujarvi (hip) is on IR.
AVALANCHE - Mikko Rantanen (undisclosed) is day-to-day; Vladislav Kamenev (shoulder) is on IR; Conor Timmins (head) is on IR.