EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers have finally busted through the .500 barrier.
Ales Hemsky scored the shootout winner as the Oilers won their fourth game in a row, slipping past the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 on Sunday night and extending their NHL record for most shootout wins in a season to 14.
It was the seventh win in a row at home for the Oilers (31-30-5), who went over the .500 mark for the first time since the fourth game of the season, something they failed to do in five previous opportunities.
“It’s a good feeling,” Hemsky said. “Every time that we would come close we couldn’t take the next step.”
Oiler rookie Andrew Cogliano says it was important to finally get onto the winning side of the ledger.
“It’s big for the team,” he said. “It’s good for our confidence and it feels like we are finally making progress. Hopefully we can get one more win and sweep this (five-game) homestand and then keep it going on the road.”
Hemsky, Cogliano and Steve Staios scored in regulation for Edmonton, seven points behind eighth place Colorado in the Western Conference playoff race.
“It’s been a year-long struggle,” said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish on trying to achieve a winning record.
“You have to get to .500 before you can improve on it. We all know we have to get 10 or 11 or 12 games over .500 to have a fighting chance. At least now we know we are going in the right direction.”
Rick Nash, Jason Chimera and Dick Tarnstrom scored for Columbus (30-27-10) losers of two of its last three and sitting four points back of eighth spot.
“The disappointing part for us was that we had the lead in the third period and we needed to do a better job,” said Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock. “We took a penalty in our own zone that was really unnecessary and those are the errors that you make that end up costing you two points.”
Blue Jackets netminder Pascal Leclaire preferred to see it as gaining a point after tying the game back up late.
“We were pretty solid for two periods and didn’t give them anything and then they came in and tied it up with a good shot on the power play goal and the third goal was a pretty big fluke,” he said. “But to get back in it was a big point. A shootout could go either way so maybe we lost a point but maybe we ran away with one too.”
The Blue Jackets looked to have started the scoring five minutes in on the power play, but the goal was disallowed as Nash had kicked the puck into the net.
Nash scored one for real with just over three minutes remaining in the first period to put the Blue Jackets on the board, beating Oilers goalie Mathieu Garon with a wrist-shot from the top of the circle.
It only took the Oilers 41 seconds to answer as Cogliano tipped a shot from fellow rookie Sam Gagner through Leclaire’s legs to tie the game 1-1 after the first 20 minutes.
It stayed that way through a scoreless second, with Garon facing the majority of the rubber as Columbus outshot Edmonton 24-12 through the second period.
The Blue Jackets regained the lead midway through the third as Nikolai Zherdev made a deft backhand pass from behind the net to Chimera, who tucked the puck between Garon’s legs.
The Oilers were quick to come back scoring goals just 20 seconds apart a couple minutes later to take the 3-2 lead.
They tied the game on the power play when Hemsky walked in from the point and beat Leclaire on a high shot. They jumped out in front on a bit of a fluke when Staios’ point shot was deflected and arced high in the air and over Leclaire, who made an attempt to jump up and catch it before it landed in the net behind him.
Tarnstrom haunted his former team with the game-tying goal, scoring with a shot through a crowd of players.
Garon, who made three saves in the shootout and is now 30 for 32 in the extra session this season, says the team was fortunate to come back after a tough first 40 minutes.
“We might have gotten away with the game a little bit,” he said. “But its not how we win, its how many we win. Maybe we weren’t that satisfied with our first two periods but we came back hard in the third and got the two points.”
Both teams return to the ice on Tuesday with Edmonton finishing off its five-game homestand against Nashville and the Blue Jackets closing out a three-game road trip in Calgary.
Notes: Linesman Ryan Galloway took a puck in the face in the first minute of the contest and left the game, bleeding from just below the eye. He was able to return for the second period after getting 10 stitches It was the first meeting between the teams since Columbus sent forward Curtis Glencross to Edmonton for defenceman Dick Tarnstrom. Glencross has two goals and three assists in his first nine games with Edmonton. Oiler defenceman Tom Gilbert needs only one goal to set a new mark for Oilers rookie blue-liners in one season. With nine goals, Gilbert is tied with both Paul Coffey and Marc-Andre Bergeron for the franchise scoring record for defencemen.