St. PAUL, Minnesota -- Chris Pronger says the Edmonton Oilers are not the inexplicable, unexplainable, manic depressive hockey team that everybody seems to see.
No, says the only guy in the line-up who could possibly be considered a playoff expert.
No, they're a study in consistency says Pronger.
OK, a little quirky, he'll give you.
"We're up. We're down. We're all around,'' he admits of the way they play day to day.
But as unsteady as they look, he says they're steady as she goes.
Pick up the paper every day, he says, look at the standings, and they're in the same place. Sitting there in a playoff position. A precarious playoff position, perhaps. But a playoff position.
"The bottom line is that through all of this we've been in control of our own fate. We've been in control of our own destiny.''
All they have to do, he says, is stay that way.
If the Oilers make it, it will be Pronger's 10th consecutive season in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
While first place in the division and home ice advantage is pretty much gone, the rest of it is still there for the Oilers.
General managers, coaches, sportswriters and fans are doing their own math on how this will work in terms of making the playoffs or making a match for the playoffs.
For the Oilers, it might be this simple in terms of how they do in their last six games and their playoff opponent or fate:
- 6 wins = Nashville.
- 5 wins = Calgary.
- 4 wins = Dallas.
- 3 wins = Detroit.
- 2 wins = Miss the playoffs.
Nothing, however, in what has been as great a race as any in the history of the NHL, could be quite so simple. Three wins may leave the Oilers in a tie for eighth, for example. Edmonton could finish with 94 points and miss the playoffs due to having fewer wins.
Any studier of standings - and at this point, who isn't? - has noticed that Vancouver and San Jose, Edmonton's main playoff opposition, play back-to-back, home-and-away next Wednesday and Thursday. One of them could virtually eliminate themselves in 48 hours if the Oilers don't eliminate themselves first.
"It doesn't matter what happens with the other games and the other teams as long as we keep our destiny in our own hands,'' says Pronger.
That, however, doesn't make them a team of destiny. And nobody is going to suggest they are home free.
But, hey, they are free of home.
As a hockey writer, you almost need to have a set of Greek theatrical masks to cover this team. You know the ones. Tragedy, the long sad face with the frown and downturned lips, for the home games. Comedy, with the great smile and great joy, for the away games.
A team which has only managed to win 18 of 39 home games doesn't deserve to be in the playoffs. One with a 20-11-6 record on the road should be considered a Stanley Cup favourite. That's what we've been dealing with here.
They've been trying to explain that all year without success. Now they just hope it holds. Pronger says just go on the road and don't try to change anything.
"Whether we've articulated it or not all year, I think we simplify our game a bit on the road. I think we're a little less fancy and dynamic with our play.''
No team in the NHL is less fancy or dynamic than the Minnesota Wild, a team which has a 5-2 record against the Oilers this year.
If the Oilers don't make the playoffs, the Calgary Flames and Wild will be reasons 1 and 1A. Calgary went 5-1-1-1 against the Oilers this year.
The Oilers, in staying with their overall storyline, lost all four to Minnesota in Edmonton but won 4-3 and 2-1 and lost 4-3 in Dwayne Roloson's debut against his old team.
The Oilers lost 3-1 in their first trip to Chicago, won 7-2 in St. Louis and won 4-3 in Detroit. Against the four teams they play on this road trip, the Oilers may be 2-6-2 at home but are 4-2 so far against the group on the road this season.
"We've been great on the road all year. We just need to continue.,'' says Pronger.
"We just have to make sure nobody moves in front of us.''