Edmonton Oilers take care of business in comeback win over Canucks

They’ve clinched their playoff spot and it’s highly unlikely they’ll move up or down from second place in the standings

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Gearing up for the playoffs by playing four straight games with the depleted and dejected Vancouver Canucks is a little like gearing up for an Olympic swimming competition by running through a sprinkler.

No offence to the Canucks. Playing their 11th game in 19 days, riding a six-game losing streak and minus eight starters, they’re running on fumes and deserve enormous credit for the fight they’ve been putting up.

The Edmonton Oilers, on the other hand, are in a pretty comfortable purgatory right now. They’ve clinched their playoff spot and have virtually no chance of moving up or down from second place in the North.

But they don’t want comfort. They want high-stakes, high-intensity hockey down the stretch to prepare for the post-season road ahead. A four-game set against a beaten-down team currently sitting in last place doesn’t exactly fit the bill, but Tuesday night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver still served its purpose.

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In an empty rink, with nothing much on the line, the Oilers held their poise through an early deficit, ground through some feisty resistance and pulled away for a 4-1 decision over a Canucks team that made them work for everything.

It wasn’t a gem, but it wasn’t the kind of hangover loss one might have expected two days after clinching their playoff spot, either.

“You have to continue to play well,” said head coach Dave Tippett, whose club is 14-4-2 in its last 20 games. “You can’t take your foot off the gas and expect to jump on it again. We have to play solid hockey.

“We’ve had good conversations with our group about pushing forward. We just put an ‘X’ beside our name the other night, but we’ve been preparing for this stretch for a while. The details in how we’re going to play aren’t going to change just because we have an ‘X’ beside our name.”

They didn’t. Even after the Canucks scored on their first shot of the game, 34 seconds after the opening faceoff, and frustrated Edmonton’s offence for the next 35 minutes.

It had the makings of the exact kind of letdown Tippett wanted to guard against — right up until the Oilers erupted for three goals in the final 5:31 of the second period.

“That’s what good teams do, they hang in there,” said Leon Draisaitl, who scored two goals, both on set ups from Connor McDavid. “A lot of times it’s not pretty, it doesn’t need to be pretty. We’ve started to learn that and figure that part out.

“It won us a lot of hockey games this season so we’re obviously looking to continue that going into the playoffs.”

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The breathing room they earned through the first 50 games of the season gave the Oilers an opportunity to blend in some fresh faces, so defenceman Evan Bouchard finally got a game after spending the last two months on the taxi squad. He responded with the 3-1 goal late in the second period.

“I thought it went pretty good,” he said of his 20:13 of ice time, which included work on both the power play and penalty kill. “To get back in the game was a good feeling.”

Sitting out for that long isn’t fun, but when a team is 14-4-2 in its last 20, you have to wait your turn.

“Everyone wants to play, but you have to take advantage of what’s given to you,” he said. “I had a lot of practice time, a lot of time to work on what I wanted to work on, specifically my skating. It was good to take advantage of that.”

McDavid finished the night with two points to move seven points away from 100, a milestone that seems more important to his teammates than it does to him.

“He’s such a humble guy, but we really want him to get it,” said Draisaitl. “He does so much for our team, so much for us on a nightly basis, the least we can do is help him out as much as we can.

“You don’t want to overdo it and let it get out of hand, but if there’s a two-on-one you’re trying to bear down, get him a touch. Our team really wants him to get it.”

The line of Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Dominik Kahun didn’t make the score sheet, but was buzzing all game and had a handful of chances to draw blood. They’ve been a very pleasant surprise as Tippett juggles his roster in search of something special.

“They looked like they have some chemistry together, so we’ll continue to see where it goes,” said Tippett, adding it would be huge to have a second wave of pressure if he’s keeping McDavid and Draisaitl together.

“We’re always thinking about that and different options to give us advantages. It’s nice having a line you feel is reliable and creates some stuff and is really solid. We’ll continue to see how it goes, but they’ve had two really good games and it’s good to see.”

E-mail: rtychkowski@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @Rob_Tychkowski

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