SUN Hockey Pool

A little R&R?

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:37 AM ET

All the talk was about the Detroit Red Wings.

Yet, the Edmonton Oilers still have some business at hand tonight with the Colorado Avalanche.

Having clinched the eighth and final playoff spot, and with no chance of moving up in the Western Conference standings, there is not a lot on the line when the Oilers take the ice today against the Avalanche (7 p.m., Sportsnet) at Rexall Place.

It's a welcome change from the usual, nail-biting, tense, make-or-break encounters of the past month.

"It gives us a game where we can try some different things that we might want to use against Detroit when the playoffs start," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "It gives us a game of experimentation in certain regards, which is good."

Experimentation and relaxation.

While he wouldn't name names, MacTavish will rest some of his key players for tonight's matchup.

If defenceman Chris Pronger does play, it won't be the 30-plus minutes he's been logging lately.

Yet if it were up to MacTavish, there would have been something on the line with the Avalanche tonight - although not necessarily a playoff spot. The Oilers were more than content to secure that on Thursday.

"It would have been nice to finish ahead of Colorado as well," MacTavish said. "When was the last time Calgary finished first and we finished second in the division? That would have been nice.

"But I think a lot of people feel it's time to see another opponent other than Dallas. I don't know whether I share that, but it is what it is now so we have to prepare to play Detroit."

Ryan Smyth has never played anybody other than the Dallas Stars or Colorado Avalanche in the NHL playoffs.

So to face the Detroit Red Wings in the first round this year is a nice change of pace for the Oilers forward - even if they are the best team in the Western Conference.

"Being part of the Edmonton-Dallas series and the rivalry that has grown over the years, it's a great atmosphere and it sure gets us into it," Smyth said. "But I think this will be good for us just to get a look at another team."

The Oilers and Red Wings met four times this season. The Oilers won twice in overtime, lost once in a shootout and once in regulation.

Yet heading into tonight's encounter against the Avalanche, the Oilers sit 29 points back of the Red Wings.

"They're the No. 1 for a reason. We can't make light of that," Smyth said. "But one thing is that you can't fear them. We know that they are effective offensively, they have some great skilled players over there. They have reliable defencemen. We just have to make sure we play with an edge and not fear them one bit."

Perhaps tonight's game would be better served if the Avalanche wore Red Wing jerseys. It's essentially a tune-up anyway.

"Now that we got into the playoffs, we have to reboot, re-energize and refocus and look forward to that challenge," said Oilers captain Jason Smith. "We're looking forward to the first game and getting ready to play. We want to come out with some confidence and look to have success."

Colorado has something to play for. They can still catch Anaheim for sixth-place in the conference standings and face the Calgary Flames instead of the Stars.

The Oilers destiny is with the Wings, regardless of the outcome.

"Obviously it's good to have some practice time to get ready for Detroit," said Oilers forward Shawn Horcoff. "One of the strengths of their game is their neutral-zone play and we have to try and slow their speed down, so it's good to get out there and have a chance to work on that."

Tonight's game will also give the Oilers a chance to get different players into the lineup. Igor Ulanov, Rem Murray, Brad Winchester, Matt Greene and Marc-Antoine Pouliot have been itching to get back on the ice.

The Oilers have also called up Jean-Francois Jacques, Danny Syvret and Mathieu Roy from the Hamilton Bulldogs, although they are not expected to play tonight.

"We want them integrated into their off-ice program and give them a little sense of the NHL without being disruptive here," MacTavish said. "We've got 26 players here, so we won't be adding more to our full practices, but in the optional practices they'll be getting integrated with our other players to give them a little sense of it."

'THEY'RE THE NO. 1 FOR A REASON. WE CAN'T MAKE LIGHT OF THAT.'

- Ryan Smyth on facing Detroit


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