Playoff stretch drive

Forward Ryan Smyth stretches before the Oilers practice at Rexall Place on Monday afternoon....

Forward Ryan Smyth stretches before the Oilers practice at Rexall Place on Monday afternoon. (Edmonton Sun/Jason Franson)

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

If revenge is a dish best served cold, the Edmonton Oilers have probably had just the right amount of time to prepare a heaping helping of payback for the Vancouver Canucks.

Given what's on the line with three games over the next five days, the Oilers shouldn't need extra motivation against the Canucks, starting tonight at Rexall Place, but it's on the menu if they wish to dish it out.

The Canucks, of course, knocked the Oilers out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference in 2003-04, crushing their longshot hopes in a 5-2 win at General Motors Place after they'd played their backsides off down the stretch. See ya. Have a nice summer.

Now it's the Oilers, 5-0-0 against Vancouver, who have a playoff spot in hand, while the Canucks have lost six of their last seven games and are sitting in ninth place as they come calling.

If ever there was an opportune time for the Oilers to help themselves and hurt the Canucks by delivering the proverbial kick in the, ahem, groin when a team is down, these three games would be it.

Take this and that, too.

"We've had the year off, but there's no question it's still in the back of our minds," said Ryan Smyth.

"It's a motivational thing and something you can feed off. We know they're struggling and we want to push them down even more. We want to kick them while they're down, but by no means is it going to be easy."

This is the time when good teams, championship teams, grab a team like the Canucks by the throat and squeeze. Pretenders go for the throat - their own - and don't get it done and then wonder what went wrong when they eventually come up short.

Factor in what happened in 2004, and you'd think the Canucks, who were booed after Sunday's 7-3 loss against Detroit - will be facing a team that will be blowing snot bubbles before the first puck drops. At least, you'd hope so.

"I don't know why we need any added motivation other than what we take from this year," said coach Craig MacTavish.

"Everybody knows they eliminated us, but in terms if it adding to it, the players are absolutely topped out on motivation now. They're overflowing with reasons why they need to win."

The Oilers sit just one point up on the Canucks with one game in hand going into tonight. Prevail a sixth straight time and the Oilers pack for games in Vancouver Thursday and Saturday three points ahead with two cracks at putting the Canucks in the rear-view mirror for keeps.

"It means we've closed the gap," MacTavish said of beating the Canucks five straight times in some wild tilts featuring big swings in momentum.

"Let's face it, they've had our number for the last number of years. We've had a lot of poor games against them, especially in our own building. We've closed the gap to the point where we want to see how close it is."

Lose the first one, and the Oilers jump a jet for the left coast with the Canucks still very much in the mix and their own fate up in the air.

"My experience says that any team that gets beaten handily is a more dangerous opponent the next night," MacTavish said of the pasting the Red Wings administered.

"That's definitely the case with them. I'm sure they're rubber-stamping this game as a game (in which) they absolutely have to turn things around. Desperation, normally, breeds your best hockey. I know we'll get their best game."

Like MacTavish said, his club had better not need the revenge as motivation. That's not to say it's not a factor. While the Oilers have 10 players who weren't even involved in that 5-2 loss, there's plenty of guys who were and have long memories.

"What that did was add to the rivalry," said Steve Staios, who has lined up on both sides of this dispute.

"Every little piece sort of adds to the intensity. You remember, but I think our focus is on the standings and the divisional matchup. We knew going into the year this is where we could make it or break it."


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