EDMONTON – With three consecutive wins to open a four-game homestand, the Edmonton Oilers have won as many games in a span of five days as they had in the previous five weeks.
Riddled by injuries and long out of the playoff picture, the 30th-place Oilers have knocked off Western Conference contenders Detroit, San Jose and Vancouver, setting up a chance to make it four straight victories when the Anaheim Ducks come calling Friday.
It’s a streak that’s as welcome as it is unexpected.
“It’s a lot more fun when you’re winning,” defenceman Tom Gilbert said. “The locker-room is more enjoyable. Practices are more enjoyable. Guys are just in better moods.
“We’d like to salvage some of this season, bring some positives into the summer and just end the season with some momentum.”
Despite a 3-2 shootout win over the Red Wings, a 5-1 waltz against the Sharks and Tuesday’s 3-2 victory over the Canucks, the 24-42-7 Oilers remain last in the Western Conference, where they’re destined to finish no matter what happens in their final nine games.
“Winning is important at any time,” coach Pat Quinn said. “You dress up in this business to win at the end of the night.
“What is important here? Well, it’s important to have pride in yourself and your performance and continue to push yourself to get better every day. It’s important to try to become a good team.”
Against the odds or not, the sometimes-hot-but-often-not Oilers face the Ducks on their longest winning streak since early December, when they won five straight games.
“There’s a big difference between ending the season, say, 10-4 than 4-10,” said defenceman Ryan Whitney.
“It might not matter in the standings and we might still be dead-last even if we do go 10-4, but going into the summer, it makes a difference when you think that you got it together and played hard. You come into camp and feel a lot better than if you end the season badly.”
The Oilers were in the midst of a five-game losing streak when the homestand began and had managed just three wins dating back to Feb. 11 as the Red Wings, Sharks and Canucks came calling.
Quality of opposition aside, the Oilers are playing out the string without Ales Hemsky, Sheldon Souray, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ladislav Smid, Ryan Jones and Theo Peckham, all out with season-ending injuries.
The rookie goaltending duo of Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk has been sharp. Deslauriers was very good against the Canucks, as was Dubnyk against the Red Wings and Sharks. Mix in some timely scoring, and the Oilers have been full credit for this late spurt.
“We’re playing more intense, we’re playing our systems better and we’re getting really good goaltending,” said forward Shawn Horcoff. “It’s a pretty simple approach.
“J.D. won a game for us the other night. The two before that, Dubnyk played great. It’s no secret, you need to have a goalie who is going to come in and make saves. Those two guys have been fantastic.”
As unlikely as this modest roll is, it’s similar to the five-game streak the Oilers put together on the road Dec. 3-11. Then, as now, goaltending played a big part. They jumped on Detroit 4-1 at Joe Louis Arena, then swept stops in Dallas, Florida, Tampa Bay and St. Louis, riding Deslauriers all the way.
“We’re still working to get that mentality where it’s not acceptable to have a night where you’re not giving your best,” Quinn said.
“We are a learning team, for sure. Yes, the horse is out of the barn, but we’ve got to keep our eye on what we’re trying to do here.”
Notes: Forward Sam Gagner, who has been playing with a sore knee, left practice early Thursday and there’s a chance, according to Quinn, he might not be able to play against Anaheim. If that’s the case, Patrick O’Sullivan, who has been cleared to play after sitting out with a finger injury, is the likeliest to draw back in.