With five loses in our past six games, five games left in the regular season, and three points removed from a playoff spot, the Oilers current situation is not ideal. As I write this, the club is recovering from Tuesday night's disappointing loss to the Ducks and is preparing to face the NHL's best team – the San Jose Sharks.
I cannot predict how the standings will look by the time next week's blog is due. The view could be brighter, darker, or just as murky as it is now, and it depends entirely on the performance of not only the Oilers but also the handful of other teams who share similar precarious positions in the Western Conference standings.
Right now, negativity is easy to find in Oil Country, and I will not make that search easier by delivering a dose of it here. Instead, I'm going to look on the bright side. The season isn't over, we're still in the playoff hunt, and with a lot of effort and a little luck, April 12th could mark the start – not the finish – of an exciting Oilers run.
I realize that my argument could be moot by early next week, but I could also be right on target. So with that Oilers optimism, here is a brief summary of past playoff pushes and how they compare to the current battle for a post-season berth:
2007-08: FINAL FIVE GAMES = 2-2-1
Last season is the logical place to start, and since you're following my logical lead, we'll start there. Heading into the final five game stretch of 07-08, the Oilers had won 12 of 15 and were sitting in ninth, three points removed from eighth place Vancouver. The club then closed the season with a mediocre 2-2-1 to finish ninth with 88 points. A similar performance this season would likely deliver a similar result.
2006-07: FINAL FIVE GAMES = 1-4-0
While 07-08's finish was merely average, the previous season's finish was absolutely dreadful. Save for a season-ending win over the Flames (hooray!), the club lost 22 of their final 26 games that year. Five games out, the Oilers were sitting in 12th and 23 points out of a playoff spot. And that's where they finished. Now, let's erase that from our collective memory, shall we?
2005-06: FINAL FIVE GAMES = 3-2-0
Ah, the Cup run. We all know how the season ended in Carolina, but do you remember the regular season finish? With five games left, Edmonton (89 pts) was tied with San Jose for seventh, two points up on Vancouver and four points ahead of L.A. The team then added six more points to finish eighth (tied for seventh in points, but relegated to eighth due to fewer wins than the Avalanche). The rest is history.
2003-04: FINAL FIVE GAMES = 3-2-0
The year before the lockout, the Oilers surged through the tail end of the season by winning eight of their last 11. Alas, the Blues and Predators out-surged them. With two games in hand, St. Louis eventually edged Edmonton by two points while Nashville finished even in points but with one extra win. As a result, the Oil fell from seventh to ninth and out of the playoffs. Sigh.
1998-99: FINAL FIVE GAMES = 4-0-1
1998-99 marked Edmonton's best regular-season finish of the past decade, and Oilers fans (and Flames fans) may recall this Battle of Alberta shocker. Six games out (I know this goes beyond our current five-game comparison parameters, but stay with me), the Oilers sat in ninth, one point behind the Flames. The club then beat the Flames THREE TIMES and earned 11 of 12 possible points to secure eighth place and boot their Albertan rivals out of the playoffs. By six points. Chicka yeah.
1995-96: FINAL FIVE GAMES = 0-5-0
Now that we've covered arguably the best pre-playoff push of recent memory, I should probably mention the worst. In 1995-96, the Oilers dropped their last five games of the season to finish in 10th with 68 points, 10 points out of the playoffs. I'll be honest and admit that I have no recollection of Edmonton's record this season because I was thoroughly engrossed in the Winnipeg Jets saga. We all know how that ended, too. I don't wanna talk about it.
1981-1993: DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS
From 1981 to 1993, the NHL used Divisional playoffs to decide the first two rounds of post-season play. As a result, there was less movement between the five Smythe Division clubs and the Oilers were consistent contenders (except for 1992-93 when they finished fifth). In each of those 12 seasons, the final five games had no effect on the club's spot in the standings.
1979-1981: LEAGUE PLAYOFFS
For the first two Oilers seasons, the NHL featured league-wide playoffs in which the top 16 teams were post-season bound. In the spring of 1980, the Oilers went 3-1-1 in the final five games but dropped from 15th to 16th, narrowly edging the Canucks by one point. Phew!
The following season, Edmonton was 15th five games out but closed the regular season with nine of 10 possible points to finish 14th.
In short, the record book reads like this: by this point in the season (five games remaining), the Oilers have been outside the playoff picture six previous times in franchise history. In each of those seasons, the final five games failed to yield enough points to vault the club back into a playoff berth. The club has been anywhere from one point out (1995) to a staggering 23 (2007) and has been within three points twice before.
The Oilers have a deep playoff history and plenty of experience in stressful stretch-run situations. But the importance of these final five games is unprecedented. If this season has shown us anything, it's that the Oilers are an up-and-down team with the potential to follow up a bunch of losses with a string of wins. It has happened a few times this season, and it could easily happen again.
Whether you look back 29 seasons, 77 games, or not at all, you can make your own predictions about what we'll see from the Oil in the home stretch. As for me, I'm nervous and excited and keeping my calendar clear until mid-June. Better safe than sorry.