St. PAUL -- Two steps forward and a large leap back.
It's happened again and again and again and again and again.
Five times in the last six weeks the Edmonton Oilers have come up with two wins in a row to set up a chance to make their move.
Five times they've given themselves a chance to get back in the playoff hunt only to drop back 10 and punt.
"That's why we're in the position we're in,'' said Shawn Horcoff after it happened again yesterday.
The Oilers had a chance to move within five points of the Minnesota Wild after a pair of wins coming into the State of Hockey. But a 4-1 loss leaves them nine back of the Wild now and seven back of the Calgary Flames for the final playoff spot.
"We knew how important it was,'' said Ryan Smyth. "The whole road trip was pointed to get to this one game. It's disappointing. We created the opportunity. but then we didn't seize it.''
If you're scoring, it's gone like this:
- Wins against Los Angeles and San Jose. Loss to Minnesota.
- Wins against Minnesota and Anaheim. Loss to Calgary.
- Wins against Los Angeles and Columbus. Loss to Vancouver.
- Wins against Chicago and Atlanta. Loss to Boston.
- Wins in Columbus and Detroit. Loss to Minnesota.
Other than that loss to Boston to begin the 'Make Or Break The Season' seven-game road trip which ended here yesterday afternoon, those devastating losses have one thing in common.
They've come against divisional opponents.
And here's a stat which, more than any other, may define the season.
The Oilers have now lost nine of their last 10 divisional games.
Do they play each other so often, their opposition has them figured out?
"Right now I'd sure like them to think that. We have a lot of divisional games left and we're going to have to start making the most of them,'' said coach Craig MacTavish.
Edmonton is now 9-13-1 versus the division. Minnesota is 11-6-3. In the five games in which the Oilers could have put themselves back into contention they've been outscored 20-6.
You don't need to draw a picture.
"Before, in those other games, we lost because we didn't play well,'' said MacTavish. "We didn't play well enough to take advantage of the situations.
"But I thought we played a hell of a game here. This time we didn't take advantage because they caught a lot of breaks.''
A 2-3-2 RECORD
The Oilers ended the trip with a 2-3-2 record and in no better shape in the standings than when they started.
To equal last season's eighth place finish with 92 points they need 29 points out of their last 19 games.
MacTavish was working hard in the post-game media scrum to sell belief after losing the game that was their aim from when they set sail two weeks ago.
"Our team, right now, is playing our best hockey of the year. We don't have a lot to show for it. But I don't want us leaving here with negative energy. I don't want this one result to paralyze us further.''
The Oilers now head home for another try to win a game involving a banner-raising or special ceremonies where their record is worse than against divisional opponents.
The Oilers have the Wild back in Rexall on Thursday and again two weeks later.
They then return here for back-to-back games with Minnesota.
Four at home. Three on the road. Six at home. Six on the road. That's how the rest of the schedule breaks down for Edmonton.
"Obviously, it has to be desperate hockey every night from now on,'' said Smyth. "But we still believe in ourselves.''
They're getting to be the only ones left.