EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers never seem to make it easy on themselves.
In one of their most important games of the year, Sam Gagner was able to score a pair of goals as the Oilers clawed their way back into the playoff picture, defeating the Colorado Avalanche 7-5 in a wild match Saturday afternoon.
The Oilers blew a three-goal lead early in the third but were able to battle back.
“I’m down to my last nerve,” said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. “It wasn’t easy. It should have been a lot easier than it was. We had a great start and then we lacked a little composure in those key situations. Perhaps the youthfulness comes into play. The good thing is that we are getting the experience and still winning the games.”
Dustin Penner, Fernando Pisani, Kyle Brodziak, Marty Reasoner and Marc Pouliot scored the other Oiler goals and Ales Hemsky chipped in three assists.
It was the 11th win in their last 14 outings for the Oilers (38-33-5) who moved to just three points back of Colorado for the eight-and-final playoff position in the Western Conference.
“We were able to battle through the adversity tonight and that’s a big building block for the team,” said Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson. “We took a couple steps backwards in our last game but we found a way to get moving forward again.”
Gagner says a key was not letting the pressure of the game get to them.
“We are just having fun right now and trying to make plays and come out with some wins and see where we end up,” he said. “Tonight was a great effort by everybody and hopefully we have the same effort going down the stretch.”
As for making things tough on themselves in the third, Reasoner, who had a three-point night, says it is almost an Oiler policy.
“That’s nothing for us,” he said “We do this all the time. Usually we would give them one late and the win it in the shootout just for fun. We’ve had a wild years and nothing really surprises us anymore. It was a big game and we were happy to be able to pull through. We’ll worry about the mistakes tomorrow.”
Tyler Arnason, Ruslan Salei, Wojtek Wolski, Milan Hejduk and John-Michael Liles responded for the Avalanche (39-31-6) who have to be looking over their shoulders After going without a win on their three-game road trip and have now losing four in a row.
“We’d certainly have liked to have grabbed something out of this one,” said Colorado head coach Joel Quenneville. “It was a tough trip but we still control where we’re heading and it’s up to us to pick it up. We lost three tough games, all one-goal games. We have to find a way to get some momentum at home, we play there three times in a row and we’ll play it one game at a time.”
Avs assistant captain Ian Laperriere felt his team did well to battle back but they shouldn’t have been in that position to begin with.
“I thought we stole the momentum back but they came right back and it shows a lot of character on their part because a lot of teams would have crumbled,” he said. “It’s unacceptable to be down that many goals to start a game like that, especially at this time of year.”
The Oilers got their crowd energized early, scoring on their first shot of the game 50 seconds in when Hemsky was able to feed a pass through Avalanche defender Jeff Finger to Penner who beat Jose Theodore for his 21st of the season.
Edmonton took a two-goal lead midway through the opening frame as Hemsky worked some more magic, making a nifty behind the back pass to Gagner who rifled the puck past Theodore.
The Oilers continued to bury their chances with just over five minutes left in the first as Pisani blasted a one-timer from the face-off circle with Marty Reasoner providing an effective screen in front of the Avs net to make it 3-0.
Peter Budaj came in to replace Theodore in the Colorado net following the goal.
The Avalanche cut into the lead five minutes into the second as Arnason sent a backhanded chip shot in off Roloson’s shoulder, a goal the veteran goalie would probably like to have back.
But five minutes later Edmonton restored its three-goal advantage as Brodziak was able to take off on a breakaway, tucking the puck under Budaj’s arm.
Colorado caught a break early in the third as Salei’s long dump-in from the point caromed off the knee of Oiler defender Denis Grebeshkov and through Roloson’s legs to make it 4-2.
The goal gave the Avalanche life as they came roaring back to tie the game with a pair of goals just 35 seconds apart two minutes later.
Joe Sakic made a backhand pass from behind the net to set up a goal by Wolski and then Hejduk made the most of a chance in close on a similar play to knot the game 4-4.
However the Oilers were able to push back in front just 18 seconds after the tying goal as Pouliot came out from behind the net and swatted in a rebound for his first of the season.
Edmonton was able to create some breathing room again just past the midway mark of the third as Gagner was left all alone in front and unleashed a bullet of a one-timer for his second goal of the game, the first ever multiple goal game by the 18-year-old rookie.
But Colorado once again came back to make a game of it, scoring with just 2:42 remaining when Liles’ attempt to pass the puck from behind the net hit defenceman Tom Gilbert and went into the Oilers net.
As crazy as the game was, the finish was even odder as Reasoner was awarded a goal with 10 seconds remaining even though the puck didn’t go in as he was hooked by Paul Stastny while going in with a clear shot at an empty net.
Both teams are back in action on Monday as the Oilers play host to Minnesota and the Avalanche return home to face the Calgary Flames.
Notes: Colorado captain Joe Sakic’s second-period assist was the 1,000th of his career. He currently leads all active players and became just the 11th player in NHL history to record 1,000 helpers.. Colorado centre Peter Forsberg missed another game with a groin injury but the Avs did have Paul Stastny back after he sat out Thursday’s loss to Calgary with the flu. Roloson made his fifth consecutive start for the Oilers. Mathieu Garon, who started the previous 17 straight, has been hampered by an ankle injury, confirmed when he missed practice on Friday. CBC broadcast crew Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson had a busy day. After calling the Colorado-Edmonton match, they hopped on a plane to Calgary to call the Flames game against the Minnesota Wild.