EDMONTON – With the puck nestled in the net and the crowd at Rexall Place roaring, Patrick O’Sullivan threw his arms in the air and looked skyward in a goal celebration that seemed equal parts relief and elation.
There was plenty of both to go around Wednesday as O’Sullivan scored just his second goal in 14 games to lift the Edmonton Oilers to a come-from-behind 6-4 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
O’Sullivan’s third-period winner snapped a four-game losing streak as the Oilers overcame a 4-2 deficit to open a five-game homestand with the kind of victory than can turn a season on a dime.
O’Sullivan and the Oilers could use some of that.
“It was 5-4 Oilers. That’s what I was thinking,” said O’Sullivan, asked about his animated celebration. “It was a game where we were down and had to come back. We haven’t done that as much as we’d like this season.
“It was a big goal, at home, too. On the road, you can’t really celebrate as much. Generally, for me, I don’t really celebrate much when I do score.”
While it wasn’t the way coach Pat Quinn drew it up, the win sends the Oilers into a game with the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday feeling a lot better about themselves after a 2-8-2 stretch.
Likewise O’Sullivan, who has struggled mightily to find his scoring touch since joining Edmonton at the trade deadline last March – his winner was just his fourth goal of this season and sixth in 41 games since coming over from the Los Angeles Kings.
“You want to contribute,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s more about that than me scoring.
“It’s a business. When things aren’t going well, there’s going to be people who are unhappy. This is serious. This isn’t for fun here, you know? It’s a job for us. When you win, you’re able to have fun at your job.”
O’Sullivan, 24, jumped on a loose puck pushed into the slot by Gilbert Brule and snapped it behind Colorado’s Peter Budaj. It capped a rally that saw the Oilers escape a fifth straight loss with four straight goals, by Sam Gagner, Ryan Potulny, O’Sullivan and Ales Hemsky, into an empty net.
“Sometimes when you’re playing good games, you don’t win,” said defenceman Steve Staios. “If you continue to play the right way, things will fall into place.
“We faced a little bit of adversity. There’s some nights where you maybe start to feel sorry for yourself and you pack it in. We, as a team, showed some resilience. Over a long season, those types of signs are what you’re looking for in building a good team. That’s a good step forward for us.”
After a 6-2-1 start, the Oilers hit the skids, in large part because of a flu bug that hit hard in combination with injuries to Staios, Sheldon Souray, Shawn Horcoff, Fernando Pisani, Ryan Stone, J.F. Jacques and Denis Grebeshkov.
Putting that 2-8-2 stretch behind and clawing back into a Western Conference playoff position is the challenge. Quinn hopes Wednesday is a start, but knows one gritty win doesn’t constitute a turnaround.
“What I seem to find right now is we take those little victories and get a little bit of self-satisfaction,” Quinn said. “I’ve said this before, we’re not mentally tough enough to get through those periods where we bend but don’t break. We’re breaking, and we’ve got to get to where we bend because it happens to every hockey team.”
At 9-10-3 for 21 points, the Oilers face a difficult stretch in which they complete this homestand against Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose before playing six straight games on the road.
“You’re always looking for something to build on that has a positive nature,” Quinn said. “When you’re a coach, a lot of times it’s easy to point to the negatives. You say, ‘We can’t do this any more,’ but you’ve also got to say, ‘Here’s where we did do it right.’ We’ve got to continue that.”
Notes: Captain Ethan Moreau, knocked out of Wednesday’s game in the second period by an unpenalized elbow to the jaw by Colorado’s Ryan Wilson, was experiencing headaches and dizziness Thursday and didn’t skate … Mike Comrie, in and out of the lineup with what was believed to be the effects of the flu complicated by asthma, has been diagnosed with mononucleosis.