EDMONTON – They have to get on a roll and they need to get some help.
The Edmonton Oilers don’t control the latter as they attempt to climb into a playoff spot in the NHL’s Western Conference, but they know a thing or two about firing up the bandwagon down the stretch.
The need to string together wins when the stretch drive begins has become an annual tradition for the Oilers. Entering Wednesday’s games, Edmonton sat five points out of a playoff berth with 29 games left after a 3-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.
They’ve done it before. Can they do it again?
“Absolutely,” insists captain Ethan Moreau. “I think we’re well-equipped for it. We have some guys who’ve been through this scenario before. The year we went to the Cup is not dissimilar to what we’re going through now.”
At 23-25-5 for 51 points, the Oilers know they’ll have to put a sorry effort against San Jose behind them and try to draw on lessons learned from 2005-06 to have a chance.
In 2006, the Oilers parlayed seven wins in their final 12 games and the trade deadline additions of Dwayne Roloson and Sergei Samsonov to an eighth-place finish, then rode it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final against Carolina.
Nine players in the dressing room remember that unlikely ascent – Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Jarret Stoll, Fernando Pisani, Steve Staios, Matt Greene, Roloson, Moreau and the injured Raffi Torres.
“We had to win the majority of our games down the stretch,” Moreau said. “We did and we finished one win away from the Stanley Cup. It’s a good lesson. You never know.
“If you get in and you’ve got a hot goalie and a hot power play . . . the big task, obviously, is getting in.”
The problem for the Oilers is two-fold.
Edmonton is five points back of eighth-place Phoenix and entering Wednesday’s games they have four teams – Colorado, Columbus, Nashville and St. Louis – between them and the final berth. All those teams have games in hand.
“There are a lot of teams between us and a playoff spot, but points-wise it’s not that far,” coach Craig MacTavish said. “We’re the one team in the division that hasn’t put together a stretch. If we do that, we’ll be right in the thick of things.”
It’ll likely take a winning streak of five or six games at some point – their longest this season is four – to vault the traffic. The 29-game picture looks rather daunting although the Oilers aren’t framing it that way.
“If you’re playing well and you put together a stretch of 15 games where you only lose two games, or maybe a few in overtime, all of a sudden things look a lot different,” MacTavish said.
“I really feel like if we’re healthy, we’ve got the ability to do that based on the way that we’ve played.”
If the Oilers can jump a spot or two on their current four-game homestand, maybe they can convince GM Kevin Lowe that they can make a run if he adds a player or two, like he did a couple years ago with Samsonov and Roloson. This season’s trade deadline is Feb. 26.
“You try not to look too far ahead, but we need to get on a roll and start winning some games,” Pisani said. “You break it down into segments. You maybe say, ‘We’ve got to win four of the next five games.’ If you sit there and say, ‘The next 29 games we’ve got (to) win this many,’ it’s mentally and physically draining.
“We can’t control what the other teams do. If we’re winning games, that’s all we can control.”
Falter or stay put, and Lowe could become a seller and start dismantling the team, as was the case last season when he dealt Marc-Andre Bergeron and Ryan Smyth at the deadline.
“We have to have a very good homestand and put ourselves in a position where those decisions are easy,” Moreau said of making Lowe a buyer. “It’s going to sort itself out here pretty quickly.”