EDMONTON - It wasn't so much that the Edmonton Oilers won, it was that they didn't find a way to snap another streak.
Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff each had a goal and an assist as the Oilers won their fourth in a row for the first time this season, defeating the Calgary Flames 2-1 on Sunday night. After letting two previous streaks this season end at three victories, Horcoff felt it was crucial that this team has finally started a real run.
"This was a big step for us," he said. "We had won three in a row and we could have had a real letdown if we had come out and had a bad effort against these guys. We need wins. We need to go on a roll. And we came out and played hard and it was a good result for us."
With the victory, the Oilers (21-21-4) moved back to the .500 mark and now have a record of 12-11-1 at home after winning the first four games of a crucial five-game homestand.
"We're playing better," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "This was a really solid game for us. It was another one-goal win but at the same time it wasn't indicative of some of the other ones where we are trying to hang on at the end. We had lots of chances in the third period to widen the lead. It's as complete a game as we have played from start to finish this season.
"There's a lot of good things happening in our game right now where as before there were a lot of holes in the dam."
Oiler defenceman Sheldon Souray felt that who they beat was just as important as the win itself.
"It was a win against the type of team we need to win against," he said. "It's great to beat Phoenix or the Islanders, but the teams we really need to beat are teams like Calgary and Vancouver. Those are the measuring-stick games. They are at the top of our division for a reason."
It was the third loss in a row for the Flames (22-16-8), who had previously enjoyed a five-game winning streak before hitting the skids.
"In our last few games, let's be honest, we've slipped a bit and we have to get back at it," admitted Calgary captain Jarome Iginla.
Flames head coach Mike Keenan feels his team has had trouble getting out of the gate of late.
"I would agree that our starts aren't and haven't been strong enough recently and haven't been with the same level of intensity that we expect that we should play with, so it is concerning," he said.
"We look at the standings and you see how tight the race is and every team in our division won (tonight) except us, so as far as the division is concerned we had a tough night."
Daymond Langkow had the lone goal for Calgary.
The Oilers got the scoring started eight minutes into the first on the power-play when Jarret Stoll's point shot caromed off the boards behind the net straight to the stick of Horcoff, who swept in his 19th of the season past Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
The Oilers added to their lead just 35 seconds into the second period on a tremendous individual effort by Hemsky. He danced around Flames defender Robyn Regehr and then deked Kiprusoff before depositing a backhand shot into the net to make it 2-0, a score that stood up through the second.
"We all saw the irony in that," MacTavish said. "Regehr roughs him up a bit after a whistle and 15 seconds later he's past him and it's in the net."
Calgary finally got on the board three minutes into the third. Oilers goaltender Mathieu Garon allowed a big rebound on an Iginla shot and Langkow was there to pick it up and backhand a shot through the legs of Steve Staios and in to cut the Oilers lead to one goal.
The Flames applied some late pressure but Garon proved to be up to the task, stopping 27 shots to preserve the victory.
"It was a huge win," said Garon, who made his sixth straight start and has eclipsed Dwayne Roloson as Edmonton's main goaltender. "We wanted to win as much as possible on this homestand and right now we are doing a really good job. I think they way everyone is playing, there is so much confidence right now."
Notes: The last time the Oilers managed to win four in a row was in November 2006. ... Calgary forward Marcus Nilson, a healthy scratch in 14 of Calgary's last 15 games, was inserted into the lineup in place of Wayne Primeau. ... Joni Pitkanen returned to the Oilers lineup after missing the last game with the flu. Dick Tarnstrom was a healthy scratch. ... The teams have now split their four games this season.