Time to think big

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:51 AM ET

It's difficult, when you're in the middle of it, to really appreciate the wonder of it.

But then there are moments when you can't help but contemplate the marvel of it.

It's then, as it was for Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish yesterday, that you must admit the awe of it.

"I've never seen it like this before,'' said MacTavish of the sensational scramble for playoff positions and positioning in the West.

"Even in playoff hockey it's not like it is now. It seems like there is more at stake.

"The emotional highs and lows are incredible. You win one and you're looking at the divisional title. You lose one and you're looking down the barrel at ninth again.''

Every game is big.

The next one is bigger.

Which brings us to this one.

Tonight against the Calgary Flames is not just big. It's about thinking big.

"A division title is still within our grasp. We might have to win seven of eight to get it, but it's still there,'' said MacTavish.

All year, the Oilers have taken their licks and kicks. But win one game and all of a sudden they'll put themselves in position to kick ass.

Win tonight and it would be four wins in the last five games with Phoenix, Minnesota, Chicago and St. Louis up next. Other than Minnesota, that could be a fun run.

From the outside looking in, this looks so excruciating it couldn't possibly be any fun. But the Oilers say it is.

"Fun? Absolutely,'' says Steve Staios.

"These are the kind of games you want to play. And for this team ... this is familiar territory for us. Hopefully that will help us,'' he said of putting together stretch runs at the end of the last few seasons.

CATCH EDMONTON

That's another thing here. A win tonight and the difference between this year and any of those other years would be teams looking at what they have to do to catch Edmonton instead of the other way around.

"The other three teams have had more praise,'' laughs Ethan Moreau of the Flames, Avalanche and Canucks.

"This hasn't been our most consistent season. But if we win this one, we're right there with them in our division.

"Even with a win, we're not safe yet,'' says Shawn Horcoff. "But with a win it really would give us a chance to (think) about winning the division title in addition to making the playoffs.''

Players are like fans. Between games they talk about the same things as you do. Most of the talk with the Oilers has been about simply making the playoffs. But the real marvel about what we're dealing with here is the division and the third-place bonus and a home-playoff date for whoever wins it.

Going into games last night, Calgary and Colorado were tied for first in the division with 88 points and three tied behind them with 86. The Flames beat Colorado 6-3 to strengthen their grip on the division lead.

But win tonight and the Oilers can think about possibly playing somebody other than Detroit or Dallas in the first round.

"A win could be very important in your matchup,'' said MacTavish.

"If you're playing for first in the division going into the final week, all that comes into play. If you're playing not to be ninth, you're going to be happy to play whoever, just as long as you get in.''

MacTavish says if this team gets into the playoffs, especially if they give themselves the best possible chance for success in terms of position, he can't wait to coach them there.

"We'll be factory-tested,'' he said.

"We'll be tough once we get there.''

ANOTHER POINT

Moreau makes another point.

"We've played well against everybody in the West except Minnesota. We've won in every building.''

And their schedule is perfect.

The spacing of games, other than a back-to-back Minnesota-Chicago set to open their last road trip, is ideal. They play their last two at home with three days between games to finish the season. There's all sorts of time to refuel and refocus.

You get the idea. Tonight is a rare game of opportunity with all sorts of upside.

The downside?

Been there. Done that. Doing it again.


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