SUN Hockey Pool

More Wing nights?

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

DETROIT -- Was this a preview? Probably.

That's assuming, and it's a broad assumption, the Edmonton Oilers can make the playoffs in the Western Conference and keep a first-round date with the Detroit Red Wings.

With the Red Wings locked into first place in the conference and the Oilers trying to hang on to eighth spot ahead of Vancouver, last night's tilt at Joe Louis Arena had sneak peek implications.

"In past years, we've been in a position where the last couple weeks didn't mean that much to us," said Brendan Shanahan. "We played teams who were playing for their playoff lives and lost to them.

"They've credited those victories late in the season with giving them confidence against us in the playoffs, so you can't underestimate playing teams like this."

Having beaten the Red Wings in the first two meetings of the season, both times in overtime, the Oilers have certainly shown they can hang in with Detroit - when they're on top of their game.

When the Oilers and Red Wings square off, it's Edmonton's up-tempo skating game against Detroit's patience and experience. The Red Wings like the matchup, despite how competitive the season series has been.

"It's a little bit of a learning session for both teams," said former Oiler Kirk Maltby. "You're seeing what each team has to offer. I think this can be a bit of a feeling-out process. We could be seeing these guys in another 10 days.

"They've always been a quick team. That's the old Oiler philosophy. They've got some skill. They don't just have one line that does everything. They kind of have two or three that contribute. They have a relatively physical defence, so they're strong in their own zone.

"It seems like whenever they sneak into playoffs, they do some damage. Dallas learned that lesson. It's a team we'll have to be prepared for if we do see them in the playoffs."

The Oilers have some work to do before they start worrying about how they might stack up against the Red Wings in the post-season.

"You want to get on a roll and get your best game on the ice and we haven't been able to do that as of yet," Steve Staios said. "Hopefully, we can just get some consistency in our play. We know what's at stake and this is the time of year when we need that.

"You win a game and you look at the playoff picture. You lose and you're looking behind you. That's been the theme for the last month for us. It's a possibility we'll meet them in the first round, but we can't stop to think about that right now. We have to get in first."

The Oilers and Red Wings have met in the playoffs twice. Edmonton beat Detroit 4-1 in the third round in 1987 and again took them out in five games in the third round in 1988.


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