EDMONTON – The game of musical chairs continues in the Western Conference playoff race.
Dwayne Roloson made 43 saves as the Edmonton Oilers leapt past Minnesota in the Western Conference standings with a 3-2 victory over the Wild on Saturday night.
Ales Hemsky, Zack Stortini and Tom Gilbert scored and Liam Reddox added two assists for the Oilers (31-26-5) who leapfrogged both Minnesota and Dallas to sit in a tie for seventh in the West with Anaheim at 67 points.
“It was the biggest game of the year until Tuesday,” said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish of the drag race to the finish in the West. “Nashville is back in and St. Louis is winning and back in it. It looks like it could come down to the last week and we’ll see who wins the last game of the year.”
Reddox, who had his first ever two point game, said the team was much better against the Wild than in their previous 1-0 loss to Columbus earlier in the week.
“This was a big game, especially coming off a loss in our last one to Columbus,” he said. “We had to come out with a big effort and I thought we showed a lot of compete tonight. We were way better that way. Everyone was blocking shots and banging bodies. It was a great effort by everyone.”
Roloson said his team just needed to get back to the basics.
“Unfortunately we have a big rollercoaster ride of a season going,” he said. “We just need to focus on simplifying our game and getting pucks on the net and generating offence that way. The old cliche of KISS hockey – keep it simple stupid.”
Andrew Brunette and Antii Miettinen replied for the Wild (30-26-5) who suffered their third consecutive loss and second straight to start a six game road trip, slipping to a tie for 10th.
“I think in the first period we played good and the second period wasn’t what we wanted and I think the third period we had it again a little bit more there,” said Wild forward Mikko Koivu. “We had a good game but we can’t be happy with it. We needed these points as much as they did, but there’s nothing else we can do. It was a good effort by the whole team, but we were short by one goal.”
Minnesota’s Pierre-Marc Bouchard felt Roloson stole this one for Edmonton.
“I think he was the difference tonight,” he said. “He made some key saves, he played well. We’ve got to give him credit. We still let a couple of goals, a couple of times that went through his legs that went beside the net. It was a tough loss the way we played.”
The Wild struck first in the game on a power play six minutes in as Mikko Koivu was able to tip a point shot that rattled off the post right to the waiting stick of Brunette who had an easy tap in with Roloson unable to get over in time.
Edmonton knotted the game back up with seven minutes to play in the opening frame as Hemsky did a good job corralling a hard pass from Shawn Horcoff before rifling his 20th of the season past Wild starter Josh Harding into the top corner.
Minnesota took a 2-1 lead into the intermission after scoring their second power-play goal of the period as Miettinen beat Roloson with just 34 seconds left in the first.
The Oilers pulled even again five minutes into the second as Reddox made a backhand pass to Stortini and his quick wrist shot seemed to freeze Harding to make it 2-2.
Edmonton took the lead for the first time in the contest with five minutes left as Reddox, who replaced Dustin Penner on Edmonton’s first line in the second, spotted Gilbert sneaking in from the point and the Oilers defenceman blasted a shot past Harding.
The Oilers caught a break early in the third as a puck hopped over Roloson and was on its way into the net before Ladislav Smid hustled over to fish it out of harm’s way. The Wild would go on to hit two posts shortly thereafter.
Roloson also made a couple of miraculous glove saves at the end of the game with the Wild pressing as Minnesota outshot Edmonton 18-3 in the third period.
There was some bad news for Edmonton in the final minute as captain Ethan Moreau was struck by a Miettinen high stick in the eye and was helped off the ice.
“We don’t have much further to say about Ethan other than he has gone to the hospital and it looks pretty serious,” MacTvish said. “He went under his own steam. It looks like the stick gave him a gash on the socket. According to the doctors you could see where it raked across the eye.”
Both teams are back in action on Tuesday as the Oilers begin a four-game road trip in Nashville and the Wild play the third game of a six-game trip in Vancouver.
Notes: The Wild were without the services of tough guy Derek Boogaard as the veteran enforcer was handed a five game suspension on Saturday for an elbow to the head of Flames’ forward Brandon Prust. Minnesota was also missing winger Owen Nolan who did not make the trip with a broken toe. . . . Edmonton had some good news on the injury front as defenceman Denis Grebeshkov returned from a seven-game stint on the injured list. Grebeshkov was initially thought to be out until late March with sprained ankle. To make room for him the Oilers returned Theo Peckham to Springfield of the AHL. . . . Edmonton forward Robert Nilsson was a healthy scratch, replaced by Marc Pouliot. . . . The Wild have a challenging schedule with 13 of their next 16 games on the road.