EDMONTON - VANCOUVER — Cinderella Story? Or Slaughter?
On paper, it's as big a mismatch as the NHL could have possibly scheduled.
In one corner, you have a 30th-place team that wasn't very good when it had all of its best players, stripped to the bone by injuries, on an 11-game losing streak, held to one or zero goals in eight of its last 11 games, trying to make it to the finish line on rookies, AHLers and fumes.
In the other, the President's Trophy winner and NHL's consensus Stanley Cup favourite, a team that leads the league in goals for, goals against, power play, penalty kill, faceoff percentage and points. A team that's 4-0 against Edmonton this year and whipped them 6-1 last time they met, back when the Oilers more closely resembled an NHL team.
So, how bad is this going to get?
Are we talking, 6-0? Maybe 8-0?
Moral victory if Edmonton keeps Vancouver in single digits?
Or will the Oilers somehow find a way to keep Vancouver's tanks from rolling into Tiananmen Square?
"We're in 30th and they're in first for a reason, but at the end of the day we're still a team that can play hard and match the other team's intensity," said Andrew Cogliano, as the worst road team in the league prepared to take on the best home team in the league. "The main thing is we can't give them easy goals, or unearned goals. They get enough offence on their own, you can't afford to give them anything."
If there's an edge in motivation, it rests with the Oilers. Vancouver's accomplished everything they set out to do in the regular season and has little to play for. Edmonton doesn't want to be humiliated on Hockey Night in Canada.
"It could happen, we don't doubt that," admitted head coach Tom Renney. "But at the same time we can play with the best teams in the league, even with our lineup being what it is.
"It's not a case of standing around and watching them play and being in awe of Vancouver, as much as we all are to a degree, they're a great team. We look at this as an opportunity, a great challenge."
Teams like Edmonton take small victories where they can get them and ambushing the top team in the NHL would certainly qualify as one.
"When a you're a team filled with injuries and a bunch of call-ups, any win you can get is a good win," said Jim Vandermeer. "This has been a battle the last two or three weeks, but if we come in mentally strong and do the little things right, we give ourselves a chance."
It's probably not up to Edmonton how this one plays out. Rather, it will more likely depend on how Vancouver frames its last four games.
Maybe they don't take their foot off the gas. Maybe they want to make a statement.
"We don't care how Edmonton's approaching it," said Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa. "We'll play the same way we've been playing the last two months."
A day after clinching the President's Trophy the Canucks were back on the ice for a full practice Friday morning as if their history-making victory never happened. The only hint that they're taking a breath is that Cory Schneider is starting in goal, but his numbers are every bit as good as Roberto Luongo's.
"It's all right for us to be happy — we worked our butts off for six months to win the President's Trophy," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. "So for 24 hours we'll be happy. Then come Saturday it's going to be business as usual.
"Part of getting ready for the playoffs is practising well, playing well during the 82-game schedule. We have four more to play and we're going to play them hard."