Pressure points

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

SAN JOSE -- They can bury San Jose, they can bury Minnesota and they can return to Edmonton in seven days with a playoff spot all but secured.

Or not.

If this crucial stretch-drive road trip takes a wrong turn somewhere, the Oilers can put San Jose right back in the race, lose the season series to Minnesota and come limping back to Edmonton right in the middle of another life or death battle for a playoff spot.

"It's an important week," said Shawn Horcoff. "The more games we can win over the next five or six days, especially with the teams we're playing, could really go a long way to putting ourselves in a good position."

HUGE IMPLICATIONS

Every game they play from now until they hang up their skates for the summer will have huge implications, but sweep this trip, or at least sweep the right three games and they'll have put enough distance between themselves and ninth that they shouldn't have to look in their rearview mirror again.

"We're playing the teams that are right behind us," said Ryan Smyth. "We can put these guys away, and that's what we need to do - gain ground on the teams in front of us and put the teams behind us out of the picture."

The Oilers have been the ninth-, 10th- and 11th-place pursuers often enough to know how demoralizing a head-to-head loss can be.

BEEN THERE ...

"There's 20 games and there's a lot of points left," said Horcoff. "But we've been in the situation before where we're the chaser and as the games get down, only 15 left, 12 left, it becomes harder and harder to make up ground.

"That's what we want to do. We want to try and put together a stretch of games that puts pressure on other teams. We want to control our own destiny for a change."

Right now they still do. They don't exactly have a lot of breathing room - one brief losing streak and they could drop to 10th in a heartbeat - but they say it's nice to know they don't have to play .750 hockey down the stretch just to have a mathematical shot at getting in.

"We talk about it at the start of every year," said Smyth. "Let's not drain ourselves before the playoffs."

If it takes 96 points to get in, like most are predicting, Edmonton only needs a pedestrian 11-7-2 to get a spot.

"We're in a better position this year than we were last season," said Steve Staios. "This is a pretty exciting time of the year for a lot of reasons. The games become bigger, the trade deadline is looming.

"You get a couple of wins and you're looking ahead, you lose a game and you start looking the other way."

With the biggest threats to their playoff spot up next on the schedule, the Oilers don't have to rely on anyone to do them any favours.

"We feel like our confidence is building," said Staios.

"And this is the time of year you want to start feeling good about your game."


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