EDMONTON, Alberta -- Ales Hemsky and the Oilers had most likely left the arena by the time they clinched a playoff spot.
The 22-year-old right-winger scored the winning goal with 34 seconds left in the third period as the Oilers earned a 2-1 win over Anaheim on Thursday night. The Oilers didn't lock up the last playoff spot in the Western Conference until the Vancouver Canucks lost 5-3 to the San Jose Sharks over an hour later.
"Huge win for the team," said Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish.
The Oilers wrap up the regular season with a home game Monday against Colorado safe in the knowledge they have earned the first playoff berth since 2002-03.
Edmonton could finish as high as seventh in the conference if the Avalanche lose their remaining two games.
"We're going to do some damage," said Ethan Moreau, who scored the first goal of the game.
Andy McDonald scored for Anaheim, which dropped to sixth place in the standings, one point behind surging San Jose and six points back of fourth-place Nashville after its second straight loss.
"We are playing for positioning" said Mighty Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. "Tonight one shot beat us."
Hemsky roared down the right wing and took a shot from the circle to the left of J.S. Giguere that slithered between the goalie's leg pads.
Dwayne Roloson made 23 saves for the Oilers.
The Oilers reached 40 wins for the first time since 1987-88 when the franchise won their fourth Stanley Cup in five years.
With the game tied 1-1, the Oilers couldn't score during a 4-minute power play in the third period after Chris Kunitz clipped Chris Pronger in the mouth, sending the 6-foot-6 defenseman briefly to the ice.
Mighty Ducks star Teemu Selanne was the loudest critic of the officiating tandem of Bill McCreary and Kelly Sutherland, charging they lost control of the game in the third period.
"It's a jungle out there," said Selanne. "I don't know about these new rules."
Hemsky scored the winner on the Oilers' 16th shot of the period. He was set up by Fernando Pisani as MacTavish juggled lines in the hopes of igniting an inept offense that scored once in losses at St. Louis and Detroit.
Oilers enforcer and crowd favorite Georges Laraques returned from a five-game absence with a first-period rush on Giguere to the delight of the Rexall Place sellout of 16,839.
The Mighty Ducks are in San Jose Saturday and end the season Monday in Calgary.
Edmonton swept the season series with Anaheim 4-0 and stretched its home undefeated streak against the Mighty Ducks to 12 games.
"Sometimes teams have other teams numbers," said Anaheim center Todd Marchant, who was a member of the Oilers when the Mighty Ducks last won in Edmonton Feb. 24, 1999. "We can't keep making these mistakes."
- Anaheim forward Joffrey Lupul of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., had 100 friends and family at the game.
- Olympic gold medal cyclist Lori-Ann Muenzer was honored before the game.