EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers’ playoff position remained precarious thanks to a rookie goaltender and one of their former teammates.
Steve Mason faced just 19 shots for his eighth shutout of the season as the Columbus Blue Jackets ended a two-game losing skid, beating the Oilers 1-0 in a key Western Conference clash Thursday night.
Former Oiler Raffi Torres scored the lone goal of the game for the Blue Jackets (31-25-6), who moved into a tie with Vancouver for fifth in the West.
The Oilers (30-26-5) remained in a four-way logjam for seventh with Dallas, Anaheim and Minnesota with 65 points apiece. Dallas and Anaheim both lost Thursday, but the Oilers were unable to take advantage.
“That was a real disappointing loss, one of the toughest of the year so far,” said Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray. “At this point, with the situation we are in battling for a playoff spot with that team, it’s just too bad we couldn’t come up with a little bit better of an effort.”
Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish said his squad looked like they were being physically outclassed at times.
“They forced the game to the walls and we didn’t win many battles,” he said. “They looked bigger and stronger than we were. When you get the game to the walls you have to make plays through traffic and we didn’t do that and that’s why we lost.
“Today was a step backwards for sure.”
Edmonton wasted a stellar 31 save performance from goaltender Dwayne Roloson, but he wasn’t calling out his teammates afterwards.
“We are here as a team and we win as a team and lose as a team,” he said. “Everybody feels the same way. It’s a team sport. Individual performances are thrown aside. We have to focus on what we have to do. Unfortunately they were able to score one and I feel bad about that.”
Mason said this game was a must-win for the Blue Jackets, and they played like it.
“It’s the same situation for (the Oilers),” he said. “We’re trying to create some breathing room and they’re trying to get back into the playoffs. Every point that we can gather that Edmonton can’t, it’s going to benefit us.” “
This was like a playoff game,” added Columbus captain Rick Nash. “This is a team that we have to beat if we want to make the playoffs. This was huge. We’re on a road trip, we lost our last two and it was a great effort tonight by all 20 guys.”
There was no scoring in a relatively uneventful first period with both Roloson and Mason called upon to make seven saves apiece.
Columbus was the vastly better team in the second period, with Roloson needing to be on his game as the Blue Jackets outshot the Oilers 17-5.
The best opportunity in the second may have belonged to the Oilers, however, when Erik Cole swung around for a quick shot in tight during a scramble with five minutes to go. Mason came across to make the pad save.
Columbus almost scored the first goal of the game four minutes into the third period when Nash’s shot clanged off the post and travelled across the Oilers goal-line before defenceman Tom Gilbert fished it out of harm’s way.
“I don’t know how that stayed out,” Nash said. “I had my arms up and everything. I don’t get it. It was hovering right along the line.”
The Blue Jackets finally broke the deadlock eight minutes in as Jared Boll sprung Torres with a long pass and the former Oiler came back to haunt his old club, streaming in on the breakaway and sliding the puck through Roloson’s legs.
“I was fortunate enough to get some room,” Torres said. “Boll made a pretty good play to get it up to me. I had some speed going in on Roli and I was fortunate enough to get it past him.” Columbus outshot Edmonton 32-19 overall.
Edmonton hosts the Minnesota Wild on Saturday while the Blue Jackets return to action on Sunday in Vancouver.
Notes: Oilers forward Fernando Pisani played for the first time since suffering a broken ankle on Nov. 17. Prior to the injury he had two goals and four assists in 16 games Another injured Oiler could be back much sooner than expected. Defenceman Denis Grebeshkov, originally thought to be out until late March with a sprained ankle, is back skating with the team and could return as early as Saturday Columbus centre Chris Gratton made his Blue Jackets debut after being claimed on waivers from Tampa Bay on Saturday The Jackets mixed up their lines against the Oilers with Jason Williams and rookie Jake Voracek skating on the top line with Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius with Manny Malhotra and R.J. Umberger on the second line It was Oilers forward Ales Hemsky’s 400th NHL game.