EDMONTON - Welcome to the last game of the season.
The last game that truly matters, anyway.
After falling terribly short of their pre-season goal — to play meaningful games down the stretch — the Edmonton Oilers and their long-suffering fans will have to settle for this.
A meaningful game. One.
Probably the last meaningful game they’ll play until next October … if there’s hockey.
A chance to drag the Calgary Flames into the tar pits of misery with them.
There has been a lot of talk down the stretch about Edmonton playing, even relishing, the spoiler role, but at the end of the day, who in Edmonton really cares if Phoenix, LA, San Jose or Anaheim miss the post-season?
People in Phoenix don’t even care if the Coyotes don’t make it, why should Edmonton?
Now Calgary, on the other hand. Edmontonians care.
In a five-team race for the final two playoff spots, the Flames might very well miss by a point. Edmonton could be that point.
Fans in Edmonton WANT to be that point.
“We feel the same way,” said winger Taylor Hall. “With the comments that (Jay) Feaster made in the off-season and everything, if there’s any team we want to knock out of the playoffs, it’s definitely Calgary.
“We want this game to be meaningful, for them to lose points and to lose confidence.”
The Oilers, who’ve been wandering the desert for six years now, with no water in sight, might even have a chance. The Flames will be softened up from Thursday night’s life-or-death game with Phoenix and are missing about six players.
Fan appreciation day isn’t until Sunday when the (ugh) Coyotes visit, but the Oilers can get a jump on things Friday night. What better place to celebrate a potentially fatal blow to Calgary’s chances than Friday night at Rexall Place?
“We know how the fans have supported us all year and that it’s going to be rocking,” said Hall. “We want to give them something to cheer about and hopefully send Calgary home not happy.”
For an organization that, according to Sports Club Stats, had a “zero” per cent chance of making the playoffs this season since the middle of January, every little ray of sunshine is important. And crushing Calgary’s season is as bright as it’s ever going to get.
“At this point it’s about doing it for them and doing it for the city,” said defenceman Theo Peckham. “Obviously we don’t have a crack at the playoffs, but at the same time you want to make your organization and your fans as proud as possible.”
The Oilers can’t move up to 28th, they can’t fall down to 30th, and nobody on the schedule after this really matters because Edmonton’s stretch drive is a steady diet of who cares — Columbus, Phoenix, Nashville, Florida, Dallas, Los Angeles and Anaheim (three times).
Take that, Panthers!
So this is it, folks.
But a chance to shut down Calgary’s season is something. Something petty and vindictive, but something nonetheless.
“Absolutely, it matters to everyone,” said Shawn Horcoff. “This is one we’re looking forward to. They’re a team that’s had our number in the past but we were able to finally go down there and have a good effort in their building (beating them 6-1 in the Saddledome last month).”
It’s a chance to see what both sides are made of.
“It’s games like this that test character. I look forward to it,” said Horcoff. “It’s games like this that we’ve been able to get up for, most of them. In games where maybe we don’t have a lot to play for, we seem to have a tough time getting ourselves ready for.
“When we’re ready from the drop of the puck we’ve shown we can beat anybody. The fans will be going, it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
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