Oilers vie for home-and-home sweep of Avalanche (Mar 25, 2017)

BY AP • March 24, 2017

EDMONTON, Alberta -- The Edmonton Oilers played one of their worst games of the season on Thursday as the Colorado Avalanche easily held the balance of play for the first two periods.

Yet the Oilers posted a 7-4 win in Denver thanks to a five-goal outburst in the third period. It was an illustration of the talent gap between the two teams that the Oilers could spot the Avalanche 2-0 and 4-2 leads, lay a collective egg and still find a way to win going away.

The Oilers are in the thick of the Pacific Division race, currently holding down third place. The Avalanche, however, sport a 20-50-3 record and are 46 points behind the Oilers in the standings.

The two teams meet again on Saturday in Edmonton -- and the pressure is on the Oilers to sweep this home-and-home against the league's worst team.

The Avalanche gave up five goals in the third period Thursday, two of them into an empty net. Over their last four games, the Avalanche have given up 17, count 'em, 17 third-period goals.

"There's no reason for our team to be scared to lose," Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. "We've lost enough. We have nothing to lose. We should be thriving in some of those moments."

He said his team simply has to learn how to finish games.

"I think we can do something about it (Saturday) night, if we get in that situation where we're up in the third period." he said. "And as you can prove to yourself that you can do it, your short-term memory tells you that you can do it again the next night."

"I feel like it happens every game, we lead in the third period, and we just give up easy goals," said Avalanche right winger Mikko Rantanen, who scored twice in Thursday's 7-4 loss.

"It's building up for next year, that's what we're trying to do. These things can't happen."

Despite the win on Thursday, the Oilers know some worrying trends have begun to show up in their game -- and that's not good news as the team is set to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. As Edmonton enters the final push for the postseason, it needs to address issues that have cropped up in the last week.

"There are some things we've got to fix that have showed up in the last two games, in particular," coach Todd McLellan said.

The most worrying issue is the goaltending. Cam Talbot has maintained throughout the season that his workload -- the heaviest in the NHL -- was not wearing him down.

But after two troubling starts, there will be questions about Talbot; is the man who has started 67 of the Oilers 74 games this year starting to show signs of fatigue? He was pulled in each of the Oilers two recent games; he gave up four goals on just 18 shots to the Ducks, then on Thursday gave up four goals on 13 shots to the Avalanche.

It was back-up Laurent Brossoit who got credit for the win on Thursday.

So, the question remains: Is it time to give Talbot more rest, or let a player who is second in the league in wins and has posted seven shutouts this season get back on the horse?

"He's worked really hard for these opportunities," McLellan said of Brossoit. "We'll see down the stretch what we can get him."

In each of his relief opportunities, Brossoit didn't surrender a goal.

Meanwhile, Calvin Pickard is expected to return to the Colorado goal after Jeremy Smith got the loss against Edmonton.

There are some Oilers who are playing outstanding hockey. Connor McDavid, who has 87 points on the season, has 12 points in his last six games. His linemate, Leon Draisaitl, has 13 points in his last six.

But, the Oilers have given up eight goals over the last two games. McLellan shuffled the lines Thursday to try and inject life into his team. Saturday's rematch is an attempt for the Oilers to get their groove back. And to do that, they can't treat the game as two points already in the bank.

"They're not a bad hockey team over there," Oilers center Mark Letestu said of the Avalanche after Thursday's game. "They've got some talent. They come after you. We didn't win a lot of faceoffs, we were chasing the puck a lot."