SUN Hockey Pool

What pressure?

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:28 AM ET

The Edmonton Oilers have none. Pressure, that is.

Pressure is maybe blowing a playoff spot because you spit the bit and lose to the lousy St. Louis Blues. Pressure is knowing every game after the Olympics might make or break you.

It's knowing you're coming up short, again, after you've promised your fans a level economic playing field - the one they sat out the entire 2004-05 season waiting for - would make the difference.

It's about taking the post-season pipe for a third time in four seasons after owners up the ante and GM Kevin Lowe holds up his end by adding players previously out of your price range like Chris Pronger, Michael Peca and Sergei Samsonov. That's pressure.

Taking on Detroit or Dallas in the first round of Western Conference playoffs? Heck, from where I sit, that's called opportunity and it's spelled with a capital "O." This is when underdogs have their day.

Don't bust a blood vessel. Just play.

"It's a good feeling. A feeling of relief, for sure," said coach Craig MacTavish. "It was a tough stretch, absolutely.

"A lot of pressure on everybody surrounding the organization and mostly on the players. I really think we'll benefit by being able to relax a little bit. It's hard to believe playoffs could be less stressful than the regular season, but that is absolutely the case."

DOGS CAN DO

Underdogs like the Oilers, who earned a playoff spot by edging the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 2-1 in concert with Vancouver's 5-3 choke job in San Jose Thursday, like to say it's the big dogs like the Red Wings and Stars who have the pressure. They're right.

"You've just got to get to the dance. We're here now," said Todd Harvey. "Everybody starts with zero wins and the first to 16 wins gets it. We should be confident and feeling good."

Of course, having the favourites feeling the squeeze often doesn't mitigate matters when there's a huge gap in talent, depth and experience between teams - the Oilers have come out second-best to Dallas too often not to understand that.

Still, there's something to be said for being loose, and the Oilers are certainly that.

"Suddenly, the team that had all the pressure on them, the team that slides into the eighth spot or the seventh spot, they have no pressure," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said before the Oilers' 2-0 loss in Detroit Tuesday.

"It doesn't matter how good their team is or where they should've finished, they have no pressure and the pressure shifts."

Harvey has been on the other end of the Oilers' annual spring trek to Texas as a member of the Stars. He's looking at things from a different perspective now.

"When you're going in as the underdog, you can go out and play," Harvey said. "If you're the No. 1 seed, a President's Trophy winner, there's a little pressure to move on.

"That first round is always the toughest to get by. If you get to the dance, anything can happen."

FLAMES SNUCK IN

The Oilers missed the playoffs in 2003-04 with 89 points, while the Calgary Flames snuck in for the first time in seven seasons with 94 and went to the Stanley Cup final, losing to Tampa Bay.

The Mighty Ducks did likewise in 2002-03, parlaying a torrid second half and a 95-point campaign to an appearance in the finals, losing in seven games to New Jersey.

"It's been proven teams that aren't in the top three of four can get to the final and make a run at it," said Peca, who did so against Dallas with a Buffalo team that had 91 points.

"Several teams have done it. The big thing is you just can't be satisfied getting to the playoffs."

That part is motivation. Not pressure.

"More so this year than any year in the past," MacTavish said. "With the parity in the league, I would think there would be a lot of upsets.

"Our (pressure) has come in the last month of the season ... Detroit is a team where anything short of the Stanley Cup would be falling short of expectation right now because of the way they played the regular season."

Just play.


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