EDMONTON – After shaking off the rust of inactivity, Dwayne Roloson has shaken up the playoff aspirations of the Edmonton Oilers with back-to-back performances that were as unlikely as they were brilliant.
Without a start since Feb. 1, Roloson got the call for the first time in six weeks Saturday and responded by stifling the Phoenix Coyotes 5-2 with 38 saves.
Roloson’s encore less than 24 hours later was even more spectacular as he turned aside 48 shots to backstop the Oilers to a 2-1 shootout win in San Jose Sunday, snapping a franchise-record 11-game winning streak by the Sharks.
As unlikely as it seemed a week ago, the Oilers are in contention for a playoff spot in the Western Conference – five points out of eighth place – as they begin a four-game homestand against the Coyotes Tuesday.
Improbable? Yes. Impossible? No.
“You just try to focus on what you’ve got to do to try to help the team win,” said Roloson. “I got the opportunity to play and I’m just trying to take advantage of it.
“You’ve got to try to go in there and not worry about anything else except what you’ve got to do.”
Beaten 5-1 by Colorado to open a three-game road trip, the Oilers were nine points out of a playoff spot going into Phoenix and San Jose to face the red-hot Sharks.
Then came Roloson. After taking over for Mathieu Garon, who’d made 17 straight starts, the 38-year-old stopper beat the Coyotes and frustrated the Sharks as the Oilers improved to 15-3 in shootouts.
Roloson looked like the goaltender who carried the Oilers to the 2006 Stanley Cup final, not somebody who’d taken a backseat to Garon.
“I’ve seen him at that level, but I haven’t seen him above that level,” coach Craig MacTavish said. “He’s got that real high-level game.
“The thing about Roli is that when his game gets there, I’ve seen it stay there for three months. With the games he’s played, the game he played (Sunday), he’s back at the level we’ve seen him at before and we know where that can lead you.”
At 36-32-5 for 77 points, the Oilers have won nine of their last 11 games despite playing every one of them without injured captain Ethan Moreau, Shawn Horcoff, Raffi Torres and Sheldon Souray.
“I think it’s amazing the way he’s been playing,” Garon said. “Sometimes it’s tough when it’s been a long time like that without getting a start, but he did a great job.”
While it goes without saying Garon likes the view from the crease better than the view from the bench, he won’t be surprised to be a spectator against Phoenix.
“We’re winning,” he said. “I’m not here for myself. I’m here for the team. We just won two big games. I know what’s going on. I want to be in the playoffs, so if it works that way I have no problem.”
While their playoff hopes remain a long shot going into a homestand that sees them play Phoenix, Vancouver, Colorado and Minnesota, that’s better than having no shot at all.
“We’re playing the teams we have to catch to move up, the teams that are ahead of us,” Roloson said. “I’ve only been here a couple years, but it wouldn’t be an Oilers season without having all this adversity at the end of the year.
“What better way would you want it?”
With all the injuries, the Oilers have leaned heavily on youngsters Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, who has scored an NHL-record three straight overtime winners during this 11-game tear, and Robert Nilsson.
Now, up steps Roloson. There will be no playing out the string – as some people thought.
“We keep giving ourselves a chance with every game we win,” said MacTavish. “That’s the best we could hope for in the last couple weeks.
“We put ourselves in a position where it’s fun coming to the rink. We’re back in the race, most definitely. That’s quite an accomplishment from where we came from.”