EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers followed their worst defensive game of the season with one of their best.
Dwayne Roloson stopped 29 shots as the Oilers downed the Minnesota Wild 3-1 Friday night, erasing the stench of a 10-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres three nights earlier. “It was a big game for us tonight, there’s no question,” said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. “That 10-2 game was hanging over our heads quite substantially. It was good to see the team play so well tonight.”
Ales Hemsky, Ethan Moreau and Lubomir Visnovsky scored the Edmonton goals, while Andrew Cogliano broke out of a mini-slump with a pair of assists. Cogliano entered Friday’s game with points in just one of his previous seven games.
It was the sixth win in the last eight games for the Oilers (25-20-3), who moved into a four-way tie for fifth in the Western Conference standings. Minnesota is tied for ninth with Vancouver and Dallas.
Roloson, who stopped 29 shots, is hoping the Oilers’ previous performance – the worst home loss in team history – will now be mostly forgotten.
“We really came out and battled,” he said. “We bounced back from a game that we can hopefully all forget about now. We played a full 60 minutes (Friday), probably one of our best games that we have played all year. Our guys played great.”
The win was also significant because it game against Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who entered the game with a 10-0 record against Edmonton.
“He’s played some incredible games against us,” Cogliano said. “It’s good to come out and play like we did and get him pulled. It’s good for our confidence for sure.”
James Sheppard replied for the Wild (24-21-3), who have now lost two of their last three.
“It really took us a while to get going,” Sheppard said. “We picked it up late in the second and in the third. It was probably something mental. We just didn’t have it together at the beginning of the game. We played well near the end, and there is a lot of good to take away, but there’s a lot to fix as well when it comes to our mindset.”
The match started out with a bang just a minute and a half in as Oilers defenceman Steve Staios flattened Wild forward Stephane Veilleux with a mid-ice hit, leading to an extended tussle against Cal Clutterbuck.
“It was huge,” said MacTavish of Staios’ start. “It was the perfect response you could have from a veteran. When you talk to young kids about having savvy, that’s having savvy … to step up with the appropriate play under the circumstances and set the tone for everybody right from the start.”
The Oilers took a 1-0 lead six minutes in on a terrific effort by Hemsky as he swung behind the goal-line and banked the puck in off of the skate of Backstrom.
Edmonton had a bit of a scare midway through the first as Hemsky, who recently returned from a 10-game absence due to a concussion, was stapled to the boards on a hit from behind by Nick Schultz and lay face down on the ice for a while before getting up and returning to the game a couple shifts later.
The Oilers took a two-goal lead with three minutes to play in the opening frame as Cogliano fed the puck to a speeding Moreau on the wing. The team captain rifled the puck into the top corner for his 100th goal as an Oiler.
Edmonton made it 3-0 early in the third on the power play as Visnovsky opted to take the puck from the point right through the Minnesota box for a point blank shot on Backstrom before depositing the rebound on the backhand. Following the goal the Wild yanked Backstrom, who allowed three goals on 11 shots, in favour of backup Josh Harding.
Minnesota had a glorious opportunity late in the second when Marek Zidlicky got a clear breakaway coming out of the penalty box, but he was stopped by Roloson’s quick glove hand.
Roloson didn’t look nearly as good to start the third as he whiffed on a shot by Sheppard that dribbled behind him just 38 seconds in, but was solid the rest of the way to earn the victory.
The Wild play again on Saturday night in Vancouver while Edmonton next welcomes the Nashville Predators on Sunday afternoon.
Notes. Forward Dan Fritsche made his debut with the Wild after being acquired from the New York Rangers in a trade on Thursday for defenceman Erik Reitz. Fritsche had a goal and three assists in 16 games with the Rangers this season Backstrom entered the game having allowed just 17 goals in 12 career games against the Oilers, with three shutouts.