The Stanley Cup playoffs begin a month from today.
Whether the Vancouver Canucks will be among the "sweet 16" could be determined this week during a three-game series with the Edmonton Oilers.
Canucks visit Edmonton tonight and host the Oilers Thursday and Saturday. Unless the Canucks win two of the games, it could be the closest Vancouver fans get to urgent, nail-biting hockey this year.
"It'll be spirited and hopefully that'll be the tonic that allows our team to play with passion," Canucks' head coach Marc Crawford said.
Canucks are 36-33 (including six overtime and shootout losses); Oilers are 34-34 (including 11 overtime defeats). Canucks fell to ninth place in the Western Conference with Sunday's embarrassing loss to the Detroit Red Wings, but they're only one point behind the Oilers.
A quick turnaround could vault the Canucks into fifth place, but their passionless play this month isn't offering much hope that could happen.
"We will find a way to get back to the winning ways," said Canucks' captain Markus Naslund. "It starts obviously in Edmonton now with three huge games that are probably going to decide the fate of our hockey club."
That the games are against the Oilers is no consolation. Oil rhymes with spoil and that's what Edmonton has done consistently since moving from the World Hockey Association to the National Hockey League in 1979.
Oilers are 92-57 (including five overtime and shootout losses) all-time against the Canucks. The teams have tied 19 times.
Canucks are a dismal 0-5 against the Oilers in 2005-2006 but were able to salvage two points because of league rules allowing both teams a point for ending regulation with a tie.
Oilers outscored the Canucks 24-17 in the five games, only two of which were resolved by a difference of more than one goal.
Since their last meeting, Edmonton general manager Kevin Lowe went shopping and acquired veteran netminder Dwayne Roloson from the Minnesota Wild and forward Sergei Samsonov from the Boston Bruins. Canucks filled some holes on defence, but Canucks' GM Dave Nonis failed to shore up the team's deficient goaltending and offense.