ST. PAUL -- Tonight, the fun factor gets a test.
After their 7-1 laugher against the Phoenix Coyotes, the Edmonton Oilers are one-for-one since captain Jason Smith called his team together on the ice at Rexall Place near the end of practice Monday and stressed the need to relax, have some fun and let confidence flow.
Doing it against the Coyotes, who are booking tee times instead of playoff dates, is one thing. Extracting two points from the Minnesota Wild, who are no barrel of monkeys at the best of times, to kick-off a four-game road trip tonight is quite another.
With just two wins in seven tries against Jacques Lemaire's dour and stifling Wild, the Oilers will need an encore of their A-game - and maybe a Whoopee Cushion - at the ready at the Xcel Energy Center tonight. Go ahead, pull my finger ...
"We need to take this momentum and energy we built up into the game," Smith said. "We've been up and down a little bit lately. It's important for us to put a stretch together."
The Oilers have been all over the place in the stretch - they haven't put together more than two straight wins since late January - so it's easy to resist the temptation to believe spanking Phoenix signifies a turnaround.
Still, they responded to Smith's pep talk by equalling their best offensive output this season, one in which linemates Ethan Moreau, Radek Dvorak and Michael Peca ended prolonged slumps.
At the same time, Dwayne Roloson, who'll make his 15th straight start tonight, looked very much like the go-to guy the Oilers need him to be in these last six games. Didn't even drop his stick. "It's nice to get those kind of games," said Shawn Horcoff. "You get a lead and guys don't have to extend themselves too much. You get to roll four lines and play everybody."
If staying loose pays dividends around the Minnesota net the way it did against Curtis Joseph and David LeNeveu, that's a good thing. To this point, the dull and defensively responsible Wild, as is their bent, have been stingy as always in the season series.
After beating Minnesota 4-3 in the first game between the teams, the Oilers have managed just 13 goals in the last six meetings.
"We could have saved a couple of those goals for Minnesota," smiled coach Craig MacTavish.
"We're seemingly one win shy of starting to become comfortable. We've got an opportunity to win this game and then we'll be a lot looser going into Friday and Sunday."
Minnesota has scored the first goal in four of the first seven meetings, a sure recipe for a no-fun night. What the Oilers need more than anything is to jump out to a 2-0 lead tonight like they did against Phoenix and force the Wild to open things up. "I don't care what point in the season you're in, the first game of a road trip is always a huge game," MacTavish said. "It's really magnified for us. You don't want to give anybody chasing any hope. We do that if we come in and don't have the success we need.
"Any time you can get that amount of offence, especially early, then you can relax a little bit. You could see it in the way we played after that. I want to see it in more than one game to see if we can settle into a more offensive-oriented game."
That'll be no easy task tonight, or in Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit, but if the Oilers stay loose, let their confidence and their game flow and put pucks behind Manny Fernandez, they might be on to something.
"At the end of the day, you have to enjoy your job, whatever it is," said Chris Pronger. "If you don't enjoy your job, it's going to show in your product or your performance or whatever.
"Enjoy yourself. Have a good time. Play with confidence. We're effective when we play like that. Just enjoy the moment and where we're at. Seize the moment."
That's when the real fun begins.