Make or break trip for Oilers

Oilers goaltender Devan Dubnyk is congratulated by Corey Potter and Ladislav Smid after defeating...

Oilers goaltender Devan Dubnyk is congratulated by Corey Potter and Ladislav Smid after defeating the Red Wings at Rexall place in Edmonton, Alta., Feb. 4, 2012. (AMBER BRACKEN/QMI Agency)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:07 PM ET

EDMONTON - Right now the Edmonton Oilers are playing for a chance to pretend they’re still alive.

That’s it.

Put together a great road trip, take four or five points out of Toronto, Detroit and Ottawa, and when they return home they can pretend it’s not too late to plunge their season out of the drainpipe.

It’ll take about 8-2 in their next 10 before their situation moves from delusion to faint hope, and 16-4 to go from faint hope to half a chance, but that’s looking too far ahead.

Right now, their ability to even fantasize about a playoff charge hinges on this three-game, eastern swing.

A bad trip, and even their dreams will be mathematically eliminated.

“We have to go at least 2-1 on this trip to have any kind of chance,” said defenceman Ryan Whitney, well aware that Edmonton can’t give up another inch of ground. “Obviously it’s going to be really tough, but if we’re going down, we’re going down with a fight.”

Going 4-0-1 in their last five, against the likes of San Jose, Vancouver and Detroit, suggests there might still be some scrap left in the Oilers, but it takes more than five games to undo three months worth of damage. They took nine of a possible 10 points and they’re still in 29th.

“Obviously we have a long road ahead of us, but if we take it game by game and step by step it’s a lot easier than thinking about the big picture,” said Oilers points leader Jordan Eberle, who just had one of the quietest two-game, six-point efforts in history. “We have to get eight wins out of every 10 games or something like that. It’s doable.”

Not if they stumble out East. These next three games can’t make them, but they can definitely break them.

“We’re playing three good teams, so this next week is going to be big for us,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who’s looking forward to his first game in Toronto. “But, through everything, we’ve always believed in us in here, and I think the past few games have definitely shown that.

“We’ve all stuck together and it’s been pretty fun lately. We’re going to go in there with some confidence now.”

But there is a big, big difference in the Oilers at home and on the road. They’re 16-8-3 in Edmonton, 6-18-2 away from home.

And that is why they’re 29th.

“We’ve been pretty good at home, but we’ve had trouble on the road,” admitted Whitney. “I don’t know if it’s not getting the match-ups we want or having a tough time with the crowd not behind us, but we haven’t been great.”

And there are some tough buildings on this trip. Toronto is 15-8-4 at home and fighting for a playoff spot, the Red Wings are 20-2-1 at home and will be motivated by Saturday’s loss.

“It’s a great challenge to play these teams,” said head coach Tom Renney. “I really like it as a coach because it forces us to be as good as we possibly can in every aspect of the game.

“And if we are, we certainly have a chance to win. We have some things that teams have difficulty with and we want to make sure we bring those things to the forefront.”

Do it and they still get to pretend.

“You don’t ever want to look at the standings and see how far you are out of it,” said the 11-Point Kid, Sam Gagner, who remembers Edmonton being this deep in his rookie season, then launching a 14-5-1 charge. “We were never really thinking about playoffs or anything along those lines, we just wanted to play solid every night and we ended up making a run for it and missing by one point.

“Anything can happen here and if our goal is playing our best hockey and be pushing right toward the end, you never know.

“Whether it’s realistic that we make it or not, it’s a great learning experience down the stretch and we have to treat it as such.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/SUN_TYCHKOWSKI


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