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Oilers ready to play spoiler Add to ...

Today, we can happily report on some good news for the Edmonton Oilers: their season will end tonight.

All those in favour shout "Hooray."

All right, that's enough shouting.

Chronicling the Oilers' misadventures this National Hockey League season has been like watching a train derailment in slow motion. Things have gone from bad to worse to the point where parents are now afraid for their children. ("Martha, the Oilers are on television. Cover the children's eyes.")

Still, there is hope. There is always hope, and we're not talking about off-season player acquisitions or even the return of dastardly defenceman Chris Pronger, which Oilers fans would love so they could boo him at least 41 times a season. We're talking about tonight's game against the Calgary Flames.

If the Oilers beat Calgary at the Pengrowth Saddledome, it would continue a series of events that could result in the Flames missing the Western Conference playoffs.

For weeks now, the Flames have been unable to shake the dogged Colorado Avalanche. Every time, Calgary loses, the Avs win. Every time Calgary wins, the Avs win, too.

If the Oilers beat Calgary, and the Avs knock off the visiting Nashville Predators today, that would set up tomorrow's one-game showdown for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Calgary at Colorado. Loser takes a hike.

"That's been our goal, to keep winning so we can have that last shot in our building," long-time Avs star Joe Sakic said this week after scoring a goal and three assists in a victory over Calgary. "It won't be easy, but they'll have played late the night before [the last game of a terrific Hockey Night in Canada tripleheader]and they'll have to travel.

"Hopefully, that's to our advantage."

The Oilers always get a kick out of beating their provincial cousins, even in exhibition tilts. Helping shove the Flames out of playoff contention won't wipe away the frustration of a season gone sour, but it would give Edmonton fans a little something to smile about. It might even make the coaches feel better.

A year ago, their season hanging by a hair, Craig MacTavish and his assistants got what they wanted: a win over the Anaheim Ducks, followed soon after by a Vancouver Canucks loss. That combination secured a playoff berth for the Oilers with one game left in their regular-season schedule.

Once in the postseason, the Oilers came alive and advanced to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Today, a worn MacTavish has set the simplest of goals for a team that has managed only one win (a 4-3 shootout against Colorado) in its past 20 games. And no, the goal is not to play fast and get it over with as painlessly as possible.

"It'll be the same philosophy as it was against Colorado," MacTavish said. "It's the importance of the game and it's important we play well. That's what we're going to try to against Calgary.

"I'm sure Calgary's feeling pretty good based on where we are," the coach added. "But you never can tell with these games. They can surprise you."

Asked whether he wanted to surprise the Flames and potentially flush their season down the drain, MacTavish replied: "We're not getting our jollies off other people's misfortunes. We've got enough of our own. We just want to play well."

Just about everything indicates the Oilers are in for a not-so-jolly ride against Calgary. In the seven previous meetings, the Oilers have lost five times. They have not beaten Calgary in the past four clashes nor have the Oilers won in the Saddledome this season.

Added to that, the Oilers have scored one goal in their past three games. Compare that to Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who has two goals and four assists in his past three games. Or centre Daymond Langkow, who has two goals and three assists over the same period.

And one last thing: the Oilers possess one of the worst road records in the NHL, while the Flames have triumphed 30 times at home, the most in the league. No wonder the Oilers look like a wooden rowboat about to go over Niagara Falls.

All those who think the Oilers can rise up and plunk the Flames shout "Hooray." All right, so there weren't many hoorays to be heard. As for the rest of you who shouted words we can't repeat in this newspaper, you can stop now. The Oilers' season will end tonight.

Playoff possibilities

Calgary Flames

Record: 43-27-10, 96 points.

Remaining games: Tonight v. Edmonton Oilers, tomorrow at Colorado Avalanche.

The skinny: A win would clinch a playoff spot.

Colorado Avalanche

Record: 43-30-7, 93 points.

Remaining games: Tonight v. Nashville Predators, tomorrow v. Calgary.

The skinny: Need two wins to get a playoff spot.

Vancouver Canucks

Record: 48-25-7, 103 points.

Remaining games: Today at San Jose Sharks, tomorrow at Phoenix Coyotes.

The skinny: Need one win to clinch first place in the Northwest Division.

 

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