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At this time of year, especially in this situation, it’s important for a playoff-race team to just leave the last game behind you and move on to the next one. So let’s do the same thing in this space today.
What happened in Vegas stays in Vegas.
By the time the Edmonton Oilers reached McCarran International Airport and it was “wheels up” to the next stop and the next game, it had to be all about the next one.
It’s another stop on a seven-game road trip — Los Angeles, Anaheim, Las Vegas, Edmonton, Nashville, Dallas, Chicago — of the quirky Oilers schedule that ends with six of their final seven games at home.
But the thing that makes this game different, other than wearing the orange uniforms instead of the white, is that unlike the three games in the American Southwest is this one is a separation game, not a game to try to keep pace with the other teams currently residing in playoff positions.
When the Oilers climbed on their charter for the flight home following the shutout defeat in Vegas Wednesday, the team with 74 points in the standings and 18 games to go, had no choice but to turn the page and focus on Saturday night at Rogers Place against Winnipeg on Hockey Night In Canada.
Understand that the Jets are currently the bubble boys in this insane playoff race — the team sitting ninth in the Western Conference standings.
Forget the terrible 20 minutes the Oilers played to start their game Tuesday in Anaheim that cost them a win. Forget the fabulous first period they played in Vegas when they were handcuffed by the brilliant goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury and his friends the post and the crossbar.
Park it. Proceed to the next one.
And it’s about the next one …
“We’ve got to go home and get some rest for our one home game in seven,” said head coach Dave Tippett in his post-game media scrum in Vegas.
“It’s a pretty important game for us.”
Being a separation game makes it most important.
While the Jets had to fly home to Winnipeg after dropping a 4-3 shootout loss in Washington Tuesday to play the second half of a return match against the Capitals Thursday, the Jets will be a team coming to town either two, three or four points back of the Oilers having played 66 games to Edmonton’s 64.
You do the math.
Beat the Jets, and the Oilers would be able to keep them behind them at least until they get back from the Nashville-Dallas-Chicago three-game-in-four-day continuation of their tour.
If there’s any thought that the Oilers should be allowed to feel sorry for themselves with their recent run of injuries that claimed Connor McDavid for six games plus the currently shelved Oscar Klefbom, Kailer Yamamoto, James Neal, Joakim Nygard, Kris Russell and new Oiler Andreas Athanasiou while Zack Kassian has been sitting out a seven-game suspension, consider the Winnipeg woes.
The Jets lost Dustin Byfuglien for the entire season for personal reasons on Sept. 12. Centre Mark Letestu, a former Oiler, has been out of the line-up since Oct. 13 with myocarditis, and centre Bryan Little has been gone since Nov. 14 with a perforated eardrum and vertigo. Defenceman Carl Dahlstrom has been on the injured reserve list since Jan. 13 with a fractured hand, left-winger Mathieu Perreault has been out since Jan. 30 with a lower-body ailment, and defenceman Luca Sibisa has been gone since Feb. 17 with an upper-body injury. Day-by-day listings include defenceman Josh Morrissey (upper body) day-to-day and defenceman Sami Niku (lower body). Patrik Laine did not return to last night’s game against Washington due to a lower-body injury.
Now THAT’S an injury list.
With 16 games to go, the Jets may be coming to town needing to win at least 12 of them to get into the playoffs. And one of those games will be back here in mid-March. The Oilers are in a position to be their executioner.
Edmonton, with a win, can step on a couple of the fingers that the Jets have been using to cling to the cliff.
Forget the out-of-town scoreboard and all the other teams and their scenarios Saturday. The Oilers need to concentrate on just this one result.
It’ll be the name of the game Saturday night.
There’s no need for the old fans who sat in the stands for the five Stanley Cups here to remind them that it would be a shame to help push Winnipeg over the cliff because the Jets were the one common denominator in all of the Oilers’ championships.
Edmonton eliminated Winnipeg in a playoff series every year the Oilers won the Stanley Cup.
But this isn’t about winning the treasured trophy again. It’s about getting into the playoffs. It’ll be much easier if they put the boots (and that’s boots, Zack, not skate blades) to the Jets Saturday.
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones
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