Oilers-Lightning Preview

The Associated Press

Despite some strong performances lately, the Edmonton Oilers are left to work toward next season and spoil other teams' playoff hopes.

The visiting Oilers look for their fourth win in five games Thursday night while trying to deal another blow to the Tampa Bay Lightning's faint postseason chances.

Edmonton (29-36-8) is all but eliminated from this season's playoff race but is refusing to go quietly with a 3-0-1 mark in its past four contests.

"It's nice to see the results for those guys working hard and staying with it," said coach Tom Renney, whose team is also 5-1-1 in its last seven road games. "It's not been an easy season for us, but it is a season that we continue to grow through and be better for in the long run."

Following a shootout loss to Phoenix, the Oilers routed a Nashville team that's likely postseason-bound 6-3 on Tuesday behind Ales Hemsky's first career hat trick. Hemsky, who was playing in his 550th NHL contest, also recorded an assist during the opener of a four-game trip.

"I hope he has many more (hat tricks). He is more of a passer, there are no two ways about that. He is as unselfish a guy as we have," coach Tom Renney said. "He was on his toes. He was really skating. He was proactive with and without the puck. Good things usually follow players like that around."

Hemsky has just nine goals this season but has scored four times over the last two games. He'll try to add to that binge against the Lightning (32-33-7), losers of three in a row.

After suffering consecutive 3-1 defeats, Tampa Bay was routed 7-3 by Buffalo on Monday. Rookie goaltender Dustin Tokarski was pulled in the second period after giving up four goals on 15 shots, and was sent back to the minors Tuesday.

League goal-scoring leader Steven Stamkos, meanwhile, was held without a point for the third straight game.

A 1-5-1 record over the last seven has helped drop the Lightning into a tie for 13th place in the Eastern Conference, nine points out of playoff position with 10 games remaining. In coach Guy Boucher's first season, Tampa Bay finished one win shy of reaching the Stanley Cup finals after qualifying for the postseason for the first time in four years.

Injuries, though, have hurt the Lightning's chances of duplicating that success. Tampa Bay, 1-5-0 in its last six at home, was playing without eight regulars during Monday's loss, including top goaltender Mathieu Garon and all-time scoring leader Vincent Lecavalier.

"We want to get back to where we were, but it's a different team. It's different players. It's different circumstances," Boucher said. "We want to groom the guys here. It's grooming players right now. Let's not kid ourselves."

Boucher will try to continue that work while helping his team end a three-game skid to the Oilers.

Edmonton hasn't faced the Lightning since a 4-3 shootout win at home Dec. 10, 2010. Its previous visit to Tampa was a 3-2 victory on Dec. 9, 2009.

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