EDMONTON – Where their playoff hopes are concerned, all the Edmonton Oilers can do is beat the Calgary Flames in regulation time at Rexall Place on Tuesday, do likewise Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks, and then hope for help.
It’s as simple as that for the Oilers, who five weeks ago sat in 14th place in the Western Conference and were 13 points out of a playoff spot before they put together a 13-4-1 roll that has given them something to play for against the Flames.
It’s the best they could hope for.
“Considering we were basically counted out a month ago, I think it shows a lot about the character in the room, especially the older guys,” said rookie Andrew Cogliano.
“I’m proud of the guys because we’re on a pretty cool run right now. We’ve been pretty successful the last couple of months.”
At 40-34-6 for 86 points, the Oilers have shaved 11 points off the 13-point deficit they faced on Feb. 23. That they’ve done so without captain Ethan Moreau, Shawn Horcoff, Sheldon Souray and Raffi Torres and with a lineup laden with rookies, makes it all the more unlikely.
While the Oilers are clearly long on determination, they are short on time with just two games left. The Canucks hold down eighth place with 88 points and have one game in hand. Nashville sits ninth with 87 points, also with a game in hand. There’s no margin for error.
“That we got this far and got in a position where we have a chance to make the playoffs has a lot to do with our attitude and preparation,” said veteran Steve Staios. “Whatever happens on the out-of-town scoreboard, we have to live with. There’s nothing we can do about that, but there’s a lot we can do about preparing for our games.”
The Oilers edged the Flames 2-1 in Calgary on Saturday, shaking off what could have been a crushing 5-4 shootout defeat 24 hours earlier against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver.
Dustin Penner’s 23rd goal of the season and 31 saves by Dwayne Roloson, who has made nine straight starts with Mathieu Garon out with an injured ankle, was the difference.
“There’s nothing more fun that winning a big game in front of a crowd that’s the loudest in the league,” rookie Tom Gilbert said of the upcoming rematch with the Flames. “It’s hopefully not the last home game for us. These are the kind of games that every athlete waits for.”
It seems like just about everybody has had a hand in the reversal of fortune.
Among the younger players, Cogliano, Sam Gagner and Robert Nilsson have been terrific. So have Gilbert and Denis Grebeshkov, as well as fourth-liners Kyle Brodziak and Zack Stortini.
“It’s great to see young guys who can contribute to the team like that,” said Garon. “It’s nice to see the guys competing every night.”
Among the veterans, Staios, the de facto captain in Moreau’s absence, has played his heart out. Forward Ales Hemsky has been solid all season and Roloson has been dogged, if not always on top of his game, between the pipes.
“I’m sure that everybody feels that if we had another five or 10 games, it would be a no-brainer whether we’d leapfrog some of these teams,” said Marty Reasoner.
“We’re not in that situation. We’ve dug ourselves out, but it would make for a pretty good story if we could pull these two games out and then kind of sit back and wait. Hopefully, we get a break.”