The Edmonton Oilers are not kidding themselves.
They are acutely aware the Vancouver Canucks that they host Tuesday will be a vastly different team from the one they beat on Saturday.
So like the underdog boxer who lands a fortunate shot to the chin of the heavyweight champ, the Oilers are expecting a stern response.
“I’m sure they were excited about just winning the President’s Trophy and they were disappointed about the loss they just had, so we’ll probably see a different team,” said Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert. “We’ll probably see the team that they want to play as during the playoffs. It’ll be a good challenge for us. We know that we’re going to be facing a better team.”
Saturday, the Oilers limped into Vancouver looking like lambs to the slaughter. They had lost their previous 11 games, were without seven regulars and had long since been eliminated from playoff contention.
The Canucks, on the other hand, were celebrating their first President’s Trophy victory, having clinched top spot overall, and were focusing on an extended playoff run.
But as the cliche would suggest, that’s why they play the games, as the Oilers pulled off their unlikeliest victory of the season.
“I thought for the most part, we played well and we did a lot of things right,” said Oilers defenceman Theo Peckham. “I think there were a lot of things in our gameplan that lately we’ve been doing in spots, but we were able to put together a full game.
“I think right away we knew we had a shot of winning the game. I think any given night in this league you can beat a team. For us it was going out and following a gameplan and putting a full 60 minutes together, not just playing well for 10 minutes and then letting off the gas for five. I think for the most part, we played well the whole game.”
The Canucks, on the other hand, looked like a team still basking in the glow of their latest accomplishment.
It was the type of effort the Western Conference leaders wanted to avoid, especially going up against a team with nothing to lose.
Losing one to the last-place team may be excusable. Dropping two consecutive games to the Oilers would be cause for concern.
“I expect that they’ll be on their toes a little more and they’ll push the envelope here and probably attack us a little harder,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “A little more prodding at us, with and without the puck.”
Saturday’s win was the Oilers first over the Canucks this season.
It came at an opportune moment, as the Oilers were wading through their longest losing skid of the year.
Unlike last season, however, when the team essentially pulled the chute down the stretch and couldn’t wait for it all to come to an end, this year the Oilers are still trying.
The number of AHL call-ups currently in the lineup has injected enthusiasm into the club even though results have been hard to come by.
It was important for the Oilers to finally be rewarded for their efforts.
“Especially against a team like that, it felt great, that’s exactly what we needed,” Gilbert said. “It’s been a while. Especially since we’ve put together a lot of good efforts and we haven’t been rewarded for them. It’s nice to get a win there and get a win as a team.”