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The All-Star game is several days away, but Andrew Cogliano says the playoffs have already started for the Edmonton Oilers.
The Oilers will be hoping to pick up some momentum for the second half of the season on Thursday when they visit the Florida Panthers in the last game for both teams before the All-Star break.
Edmonton (22-24-5) is in second-to-last place in the Western Conference, nine points ahead of Los Angeles. The Oilers are still within striking distance of the top eight teams in the West with 49 points, but know they don't have much room for error.
The Oilers missed the postseason in 2006-07 after falling in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup finals a season earlier.
"Every game's like a playoff game for us," Cogliano said. "I mean, we've put ourselves in a situation where every night it feels like do or die for us to climb back into the race. No matter where we're playing and who we're playing it feels like that from here on out.
"We've felt like that a lot the last few years, and this year's even a little bit earlier than normal, where every single game and every point is vital for us moving forward."
Cogliano has two goals and three assists in his last three games and had a goal and an assist in Tuesday's 4-3 loss in Tampa Bay. Ales Hemsky and Steve Staios also scored for the Oilers, who have dropped four of five.
Edmonton is 1-2-1 on its current five-game road trip.
"We came into this road trip needing to take all the points we could, and if we could finish it .500, we're going to take it," defenseman Sheldon Souray said. "Again, it's another must-win. We got a few days off after that to regroup. These points are so huge, it's tough to let them slip away."
If recent history is any indication, Edmonton has a good chance at finishing the trip on a high note. The Oilers have won three straight against the Panthers (22-24-4) since a 5-4 defeat in Florida on March 8, 2002.
Thursday's game is the first meeting between the teams in Florida since a 4-0 Edmonton win on Dec. 7, 2002.
The Panthers have won two of their last three games, but are just 4-8-1 over their last 13. However, they are just four points behind first-place Carolina in a lackluster Southeast Division.
Nathan Horton matched a franchise record and set a career-best with four assists in Tuesday's 5-3 win over Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa. Florida ended a six-game home losing streak, its longest since a seven-game slide Feb. 26-March 24, 2003.
"We definitely needed this win tonight," Stephen Weiss, who had a goal and an assist, told the Panthers' official team Web site. "It was a good team effort. We didn't have any lapses."
Horton, who has eight assists in his last five games, set up Tanner Glass' first NHL goal in the rookie's 22nd game.
All-Star goalie Tomas Vokoun stopped 43 shots, ending a personal four-start losing streak and winning for just the second time in 11 starts. Vokoun had eight regulation losses, one shootout defeat, one shootout win and a 3.53 goals-against average in his previous 10 games.
"We have one more game before the All-Star break, and we have to make sure we have another 60 minute effort," winger Radek Dvorak said.