Whose line is it?

Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish and winger Raffi Torres seem perplexed as MacTavish tries...

Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish and winger Raffi Torres seem perplexed as MacTavish tries different line units yesterday at practice. (Edmonton Sun/Darryl Dyck)

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:55 PM ET

Craig MacTavish had new line combinations working together at yesterday's practice.

With two games left in the regular season, the Edmonton Oilers head coach may have been looking to shake things up following a disappointing four-game road trip.

Then again, he may have just been trying to switch the focus as his team prepares to play their biggest game of the season tonight (7 p.m.) at Rexall Place against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

"I just did that so you guys would have something else to talk about other than the crucifixion of the Oilers," MacTavish told the media scrum following practice. "Did it work?"

Perhaps.

Whether Ryan Smyth actually centres Ales Hemsky and Sergei Samsonov on the Oilers top line when the puck drops tonight remains to be seen.

What is known, however, is that the Oilers need to beat the Ducks tonight in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Having left five points on the road - dropping games to the St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings and losing in a shootout to the Minnesota Wild - has the Oilers dangerously close to the edge.

Even if they do win their final two games tonight against the Ducks and Monday versus the Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers could still be left on the outside looking in at playoff time.

"It's tough to be positive after you get beat," MacTavish said.

"But what you must do is dust yourselves off, pick up some emotion and carry yourselves into the next day."

Heading into yesterday's play, the Oilers held a two-point lead on the Vancouver Canucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Canucks used up their game in hand in last night's overtime loss to the Sharks, so the Oilers fate is in their own hands - barely.

"It's ironic that it all comes down, in all likelihood, for us to win a couple of games in our own building," MacTavish said.

"A building that we haven't had enough success in so far. The logical conclusion would be that we couldn't do it because of our past record.

"But this season has been, if anything, about illogical conclusions and we feel the irony is that we're very capable of coming in here now and winning two games and getting ourselves in the playoffs."

Illogical is a good way of putting it.

The team is still scratching its collective head trying to figure out how they lost 2-1 to the Blues on Sunday - the worst team in the conference who were on a 13-game losing skid when the Oilers came calling.

It makes little sense how the Oilers could be 6-2 against the Vancouver Canucks this year, yet 2-6 and 1-3 against the Wild and Blues respectively. Both teams are already looking towards golf season.

It's also baffling how the Oilers could have the sixth-best road record in the league, yet be the 22nd-ranked team when it comes to playing at home.

"We're looking forward to the next two games to redeem ourselves for a difficult and disappointing home schedule we've had this year," said Oilers forward Michael Peca. "I don't think any team wants to be in a position where they're scratching and clawing for every point in the last two or three weeks of the season to try and get into the playoffs. None the less, we're here and we have try and do whatever we can to get over it."

In the Ducks, the Oilers are facing a team that has clinched a playoff spot and chasing the Nashville Predators for home-ice advantage in the post-season.

Anaheim comes into the game having lost 3-0 to Calgary on Tuesday.

"We feel if we win both games, then we'll be in," said Smyth. "We just have to take care of ourselves."

NOTES: Georges Laraque was back on a line with Michael Peca and Todd Harvey yesterday in practice. While MacTavish would not tip his hand, he said it was quite possible Laraque could be back in the lineup tonight ... Other line combinations included Jarret Stoll playing with Radek Dvorak and Raffi Torres, and Shawn Horcoff with Fernando Pisani and Ethan Moreau.


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