EDMONTON – The once unthinkable has now at least become a possibility.
Written off as dead a month ago, the Edmonton Oilers continued to inch their way back into the playoff picture Tuesday as Curtis Glencross scored two third-period goals to lead the Oilers to their third straight win, an 8-4 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes. Tom Gilbert, Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson, Kyle Brodziak, Jarret Stoll and Dustin Penner also scored for Edmonton, with Gagner and Ales Hemsky recording three-point nights.
It was the most goals Edmonton has scored in a single game in five seasons.
“It was a typical Oilers four-goal win, tied in the third period,” joked Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.
“It was just huge,” Glencross said. “It’s nice to know that you can still have an eight-goal game these days. That was pretty impressive.”
It was the 10th win in the last 12 games for the surging Oilers (37-32-5) who moved into sole possession of 10th place in the Western Conference, one point back of ninth-place Nashville and just five points back of eighth-place co-holders Vancouver, Calgary and Colorado.
Oilers assistant captain Steve Staios says the team has come a long way from where it was a month ago.
“We were in a pretty bad situation not too long ago and made a commitment to each other and everybody has followed through with it,” he said. “We weren’t feeling that good about how we were playing but no one went into panic mode. We had confidence that if we got back to our game that we could make a run.”
And making a legitimate run is something they are doing.
“We’re starting to build more confidence here and a lot of guys have been really stepping up when we need it,” said Gagner. “These are all big games down the stretch and we need that from everybody.”
Derek Morris, Shane Doan, Daniel Winnik and Peter Mueller replied for Phoenix (36-33-5) losers of three in a row and five of their last seven to remain seven points back of the playoff cut.
“When you take those two big losses, it’s looking dismal for the playoffs, but we have to leave this behind us up here and get back to Phoenix,” Winnik said. “I don’t think it’s a lack of effort or intensity on anyone’s behalf or a lack of caring. We’re just having mental letdowns at the wrong times.”
Doan says that it’s too early to count the Coyotes out, even if they have hit the skids of late.
“We’ve got eight games left, it can’t be the end,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to win the next one and not get too overly concerned about what everyone else is doing and hope for help.”
The Coyotes started off the scoring 4:13 in as a faceoff win came back to Morris at the point and he blasted a puck past Oilers starter Dwayne Roloson.
But the Oilers returned the favour just 12 seconds later on a point blast from Gilbert.
Phoenix regained the one-goal advantage eight minutes into the opening frame as Doan wafted a backhand shot over Roloson’s shoulder.
The Oilers jumped back ahead with a pair of late period power-play goals.
Edmonton evened the game 2-2 with 2:34 left as a Joni Pitkanen shot caromed to Gagner at the side of the net and the rookie forward sent his 10th of the year into the wide-open net.
The Oilers took a 3-2 lead into the dressing room as Hemsky made a nice cross-ice play to Nilsson, who snapped the puck into the back of the net before Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov could get across with 37 seconds left.
Mikael Tellqvist started the second period in net for the Coyotes.
Edmonton took a two-goal lead five minutes into the middle period as Andrew Cogliano intercepted a pass while killing a penalty and went in on a two-on-one with Brodziak who took the pass and buried his first ever short-handed goal.
Phoenix pulled back within one late in the period as Winnik picked up a rebound and snuck a shot between Roloson and the post with just 1:03 to go in the second. Doan picked up an assist on the play, giving him a career-high 69 points on the season.
The Coyotes tied the game four minutes into the third period on the power play as Mueller’s soft shot from the side of the net bounced around in Roloson’s equipment before skittering across the goal-line.
But Edmonton regained the advantage three minutes later on another power play after a nice tic-tac-toe passing play between Hemsky, Gagner and finally Penner who chipped the puck past Tellqvist to make it 5-4.
Two minutes later they had restored their two-goal cushion, as Glencross, who had missed on three opportunities earlier in the game, finally made good, picking up a puck that had deflected off of Matt Jones in front of the net and sliding it home.
Three minutes later Glencross connected again getting three whacks at the puck before finally putting it through the goaltender’s legs to make it 7-4, the most goals the Oilers have scored in a game this season.
They went one goal further with 3:04 remaining as Stoll made a desperate lunge to get the puck out while killing a penalty and the puck seemed to have a mind of its own, inching all the way into the empty Phoenix net, with Tellqvist on the bench for an extra attacker.
“Our power play has been clicking for the last month and our penalty killing came up big for us again,” Penner said. “Special teams won it for us tonight.”
Both teams are back in action on Thursday night as Phoenix kicks off a three-game homestand against Los Angeles and the Oilers play the second of a run of four games at home against Vancouver.
Notes: Edmonton swept the season series between the teams 4-0. .. The Oilers reached a rather dubious milestone on Tuesday, going over 300 man-games lost to injury. With Ethan Moreau, Sheldon Souray, Shawn Horcoff and Raffi Torres out for the season and Geoff Sanderson nursing a sore back, the Oilers reached 301 games lost. .. Roloson, who backed up Mathieu Garon for 17 straight games, got his third straight start. .. Coyotes captain Doan now has 69 points through 74 games, moving past his career high in points of 68 set in 2003-04.