EDMONTON, AB - There's no skirting around it. Tonight is a big night for the Edmonton Oilers.
"We're not dummies," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "I think we're all aware of the opportunity that's in front of us."
With a win of any kind tonight against the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton secures its spot in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, ending a drought that dates back to 2006.
"It's a big night. It's been a long time coming for this city and hopefully we can go out there and give the fans a good show tonight and do what we need to do to take care of business," said Oilers goalie Cam Talbot, who will get the start between the pipes.
Add into tonight's atmosphere that it comes against a desperate Kings team that's just treading water in the playoff race, and that it's Fan Appreciation Night, everything lends one to believe it will be a playoff-like atmosphere at Rogers Place.
"This is the definition of a hockey city," said Talbot. "They've been pretty hungry for playoff hockey for quite some time so to hopefully be able to clinch a playoff spot tonight in front of the home fans is going to be an exciting time for them and a big confidence boost for us."
FOCUSED ON THE NIGHT
Even with the aforementioned clinch scenario hanging in the balance, the Oilers say they're not really focused on it. They recognize it, but they put their one-game-at-a-time process ahead of the pressure.
"The preparation and approach will be the same as it is any other night," said McLellan. "That's something we want to continue to do as we move forward in all the games we play from now until we're done."
"It's an exciting night. But with that said, each game we've taken as one game at a time," said Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse. "I think you play again and then you move on. This will be the same mindset. This will be a great night and it's been great to get to this point, but we've still got to continue to work and continue to improve come the final stretch here."
The Kings will not go gentle into that good night. The Los Angeles club, emboldened with playoff experience, will give the Oilers everything they've got.
"The opponent is what's in the way," said McLellan. "I've seen that opponent when the back is against the wall and they don't disappear. That's the message we'll deliver the group and they'll have to be prepared to face the best LA Kings team we've faced all year and that will be tonight."
Injured Oilers defenceman Matt Benning took to the ice for morning skate, but stayed later than the rest of the blueliners. That could mean Eric Gryba replaces him in the lineup.
The Oilers only held an optional this morning, but the lineup yesterday was as follows:
Tonight's game marks the fourth of five meetings between the Oilers and Kings this season and the third and final game in Edmonton. These teams will face each other again on April 4th in Los Angeles.
The last time these teams met was on March 20th in Edmonton when the Oilers defeated the Kings by a score of 2-0. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl assisted on both Oilers goal, scored by Milan Lucic and Patrick Maroon. Cam Talbot stopped all 35 shots for the shutout.
Oilers team scope:
With a win of any kind tonight, the Oilers could clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2006. More importantly, the Oilers are in a tight divisional race in the Pacific Division where three points separates first from fourth.
Anaheim sits in top spot with 93 points while the Oilers and San Jose Sharks are tied for second at 91 points. Calgary sits in fourth in the Pacific and occupies the first wildcard spot.
Forward Jordan Eberle became only the 21st player all-time to appear in 500 games with the NHL's Edmonton Oilers on Mar. 25 vs. Colorado.
The native of Regina, Sask. also has 376 career points (161G, 215A) as an Oiler, ranking him 12th place in all-time Oilers scoring.
Eberle is the top-scoring current Oiler on the all-time Oiler scoring list. The top-scoring active player is Ales Hemsky, with Dallas, who has 477 points (142G, 335A) in 652 games with Edmonton.
The native of Regina, Sask. needs seven points to tie/eight points to move ahead of Kevin Lowe for 11th place in Oilers all-time scoring.
Forward Leon Draisaitl has moved into tenth spot in NHL scoring, on the strength of a seven game scoring streak, totalling 14 points (4G, 10A). The native of Cologne, Gemany has now amassed 70 points (26G, 44A) through 75 games, setting career highs for points, goals and assists.
The last time the Oilers finished an NHL season with two top ten scorers was in 1988-89 (Jari Kurri - 8th, Jimmy Carson - 9th); The last time the Oilers finished an NHL season with two top 25 scorers was in 1991-92 (Vincent Damphousse - 18th, Joe Murphy - 25th).
Kings team scope:
The Kings are fighting for their playoff lives. At 77 points, they're 11 back of the St. Louis Blues for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. Although they do hold a game hand on the Blues, with only eight games left in the season they are certainly running out of time.
In their last 10 games, the Kings are 4-5-1 including only two wins in their last seven.
Special Teams have truly been a Tale of Two Cities for the Kings. At home, their power play is stellar ranking fourth in the NHL at 24.6% but on the road it's 27th at 13.9%.
On the penalty kill, it's the road where the Kings thrive. They are tops in the NHL away from home with an 86.8% efficiency rating while at home they're a much more average 16th at 82.0%.
Tonight marks Jarome Iginla's 100th career game against the Oilers. In his 99 previous games, Iginla has 38 goals and 51 assists for 89 points against the team he grew up cheering for in St. Albert.