Playoffs begin right now for Oil

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

PHOENIX -- It's a little too early to say "Now or Never," but you don't have to look at Edmonton's schedule very long to see how everything they've worked for all season long could come down to the next six days.

Phoenix, Anaheim, Minnesota, Anaheim.

When your grip on a playoff spot is just a scant one point, not a lot of time is spent deciding which of your last nine games are the most important, but the Edmonton Oilers definitely understand the urgency of these next four.

CONTROLLING THEIR DESTINY

Run the table and they're in.

Run into trouble and ... let's just say they don't want to be going into the last five games of the season - four of which are against San Jose, Vancouver and Calgary (twice) -needing three or four wins to make the playoffs.

"This is the litmus test for our season," said winger Dustin Penner, as the Oilers left for back-to-back road games against the Coyotes and Ducks tonight and tomorrow.

"We're looking at four must-win games against teams that are either below us in the standings or competing for the last playoff spots.

"It would do us a lot of good to pick up all eight points, or six of eight, because you don't want it coming down to the final week of the season and you don't want to make those last five games the do-or-die games."

No they don't. Not that they couldn't rise up and rip a few wins away from the Canucks, Sharks and Flames, but you wouldn't want to bet your playoff life on it.

They can spare everyone - themselves, most of all - a whole lot of anxiety if they can wrap it up before that.

And it's right there for them. They talk about controlling their own destiny - well, these next four games are it.

Sweep Anaheim in a pair of four-pointers, put the final nail in Minnesota's coffin and beat Phoenix (they sure as heck better beat Phoenix) and they won't have to look in the rearview mirror again.

Run the table and they can spend the last week of the season trying to move into sixth, for a possible first round series with Calgary, instead of trying to stay out of ninth.

That might be a lot to ask of a team that's scored two goals in its last two games, but better now than when the conference's big dogs come calling in April.

"It's all on us, it's all in our hands," said defenceman Tom Gilbert. "We have to focus on the first game, focus on Phoenix, but we need as many points as possible out of this."

The Coyotes will be playing free and easy tonight, the kind of no-pressure opponent that can be extremely dangerous at this time of year. The resurgent Ducks will be catching Edmonton on the second of back-to-back games.

"They're both tough, but they're both winnable games, I know that, and that's all that matters," said head coach Craig MacTavish.

"If we play our best we'll win the games."

If not ... nobody even wants to think about applying this storyline to the last five games.

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT

"There's still a lot of teams within reaching distance," said Fernando Pisani.

"Phoenix is huge and the one after that is going to be the biggest game of the year. It's going to be like that right till the last game."

Not if they can help it.

"It's a battle of attrition now, almost psychological," MacTavish said of the race. "It's incredible. I don't remember it being like this.

"It was pretty hard getting in the last time we got in, there were some pretty dark moments, but overall I don't remember it being this extreme."


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