Clock ticking on Oilers

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 6:52 AM ET

The reality of the situation hit them like a shot to the solar plexus.

Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Wild has the Edmonton Oilers on the verge of missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season, something which seemed inconceivable at the beginning of the year.

"You can't think of it that way," said centre Sam Gagner.

"I think everyone in here wants to remain positive. The moment you get down and think you're in the worst spot, that's when you're done.

"We have to focus on getting ready for our next game ... that's another important task, and we're not really out of anything right now.

"It's still in our control, we still have a lot of games against teams that are ahead of us. We have to focus on that and play every game like it's our last."

After walking the tightrope above the playoff cut for the past few weeks, the Oilers dropped to 10th place in the Western Conference standings with the loss to the Wild.

While the St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks are all charging towards the post-season, the Oilers are spinning their wheels, having lost four of their last five games.

Tonight, they'll attempt to fight their way back up the ladder when they host the Ducks at Rexall Place.

"The playoff spot is still right there, we just need to win," said Oilers centre Shawn Horcoff.

"It's not like we were ever in a stranglehold of that (playoff) position.

"When we were in seventh, we were only one or two points up. I can't say that we were overconfident when we were there and it wasn't a no-brainer that we were going to make it. I don't think the pressure is any different now; we still have to win games."

The difference from a week ago is that the Oilers require wins against teams ahead of them.

Having failed to pick up points against the Wild (twice) and the Phoenix Coyotes, the Oilers are now forced to come up with victories over teams like the Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames.

Only the Los Angeles Kings sit lower than the Oilers in the standings heading into the last six games of the season. And conceivably, the Oilers could be out of the race by the time they host L.A. on Tuesday.

"We need more consistency in the intensity we bring and more individual responsibility," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

It's unlikely the Oilers need to win all of their remaining six games to qualify for the playoffs, but they are running low on the number of losses they can afford.

Heading into tonight, the Ducks have won five of their last six -- their only loss coming to the Oilers, who they out shot 54-20.

The Blues have won five straight, while the Predators have three consecutive victories and have earned at least a point in their last eight games.

"We have a lot of character in here and we have a lot of great leaders," Gagner said.

"Obviously, now is the time to step up and show it.

"For us, it's a matter of seeing the guys who are true winners at this time of year and are able to really step up their game.

"That's what we have to focus on and hopefully we can come up with some crucial wins."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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