One down, one to go

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

Stick a fork in. One's done. Well done.

It was a good old-fashioned Western Canadian barbecue.

First Vancouver. Then Calgary. Then Edmonton. All year long the three Canadian teams have been beating each other's brains out in the toughest division in hockey. Finally, they did something to help each other out.

The Kings were effectively eliminated from the playoffs last night as a result of a 4-0 grilling by the Oilers -- a 13-5 for-against toasting in the three-game swing.

By losing four of their last five games -- all four to the Northwest Division teams battling to stay alive in the playoff picture at the end of a season in which they've had to play each other eight times -- the Kings sewered their season.

It started with Colorado. One win for a new coach later, they headed north and their season went south for good.

Los Angeles is now five points back of a playoff position with eight games to go.

They'd now have to go 7-1 to hit the 95-point plateau. And you should know that they've only won three games against teams currently in possession of a playoff position since Jan. 5 and have seven of those left on their schedule.

One down. One to go.

The number of teams competing for the final five playoff spots has gone from seven to six.

"It was a great opportunity for us. We knew what this one meant. If we won it would effectively be a five-team race," said coach Craig MacTavish.

Trouble is, he didn't really want it to be.

That's the thing about the way the mad scramble in the Wild West works.

"Hoping that we'd win tonight, I was kind of hoping that Calgary would have lost to them last night," said MacT.

'COMPETING HARD'

"In reality, we want them to still be in the race, still in there competing hard against the other teams and knocking some of them off."

That's how crazy this playoff race is out west. In half the games, the fans don't know who to cheer for.

"We don't either," said the Oilers' coach.

One thing. The Kings being swept in their three game swing to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton may even make the Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche nervous. Both teams have to take the same three-game swing in the final days of the season.

But that's then. This is now. And while the win made it three wins in four-games for the Oilers and moved them into a three-way tie for sixth with 86 points, maybe winning a huge game and winning it the way they wanted to win it means more.

To be able to tell themselves that maybe they've got something going heading down the stretch despite their stumble against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night may mean as much as the game meant in the standings.

"We needed to bounce back from that Minnesota game. We played well enough to win but lost because of a couple bad breaks. Sometimes a game like that can really set a team back," said Steve Staios.

WENT FORWARD

Instead they came out and went forward.

"We didn't let them spend much time in our zone. We played the game the way we want to play the games -- going forward," he added.

They finally showed killer instinct. They finally started by going for the throat and didn't back off the throttle.

The Oilers hadn't won a game by more than a goal since a 3-1 victory on Feb. 4. Only twice this year have the Oilers won by four and only twice have they won by more (five on both occasions.)

And it certainly didn't hurt to have new guys like Sergei Samsonov, Jaroslav Spacek and Dwayne Roloson have such major roles in the win.

"The goaltender was up to the task when he had to be. When you have a goaltender come from another team, it's always a good thing when he gets that first shutout," MacTavish said of Roloson.

There was a playoff feel to the building, which they certainly didn't manage to manufacture against Minnesota. The Oilers should now come close to experiencing their first real playoff environment tomorrow night against Calgary.

"It's as simple as this. It gives everybody 24 hours to take a deep breath and relax a little emotionally," said Lowe.


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