Fourth on the Oilers in scoring, Smyth missed nine games with a left shoulder injury. Edmonton seemed lost without one of its offensive leaders, going 0-5-2-2 to fall into a dogfight with Nashville for the final Western Conference’s playoff spot.
“That’s a huge win. We got two points against a team that’s behind us in the standings and those are points we need,” Smyth said. “I thought we played a full 60 minutes, and that’s what we need to do.”
Smyth’s return helped pump some life into the Oilers. He opened the scoring 5:43 into the contest but saved his biggest play for the final minutes of the third period.
After rookie Ales Hemsky forced a turnover along the right boards just inside the San Jose blue line, Smyth and Marchant broke in on a quick 2-on-1.
Smyth skated down the left side and slid a pass to Marchant, who tapped the puck past Miikka Kiprusoff to break a 1-1 tie.
“Well, we hadn’t won a game in eight or nine and it was very frustrating for us as a group because we were playing pretty good hockey and weren’t winning,” Marchant said. “Tonight when we scored that second goal, it seemed like the team’s confidence went from zero to 10.”
Oilers coach Craig MacTavish didn’t think Smyth would be that effective in his return.
“I was surprised,” MacTavish admitted. “He came out and played very well. It’s tough when you miss that much time. To come into a game as important as this one and to play as well as he did is really a tribute to him.”
Tommy Salo made 26 saves for Edmonton, which moved four points ahead of Nashville.
San Jose has lost two straight following a three-game winning streak and is 11 points behind the Oilers.
“We knew how important this game was and it’s just getting tougher and tougher,” Sharks right wing Teemu Selanne said. “We’ve put ourselves behind the eight-ball, but still there’s 13 games left. It’s going to be a tough road. We’ll need to play extremely well, but I still think it could get done.”
Salo was at his best in the third period, stopping all 14 shots and helping kill a pair of power plays.
With Mike Comrie in the penalty box for hooking, the Oilers nearly converted while shorthanded early in the third. Defenseman Eric Brewer came in on a partial breakaway but before he could make a move, the puck slid off his stick.
Smyth and Georges Laraque had a chance to break the tie with just over 12 minutes remaining but could not convert on a 2-on-1.
Salo came up with his biggest save with just under eight minutes left in the third when he stopped rookie Jonathan Cheechoo’s slap shot from the right faceoff circle.
Smyth produced the game’s first goal at 5:43 of the opening period, redirecting Brewer’s shot from right point by Kiprusoff for his 20th of the season.
“I got my feet wet and got a lucky tip, but I really just wanted to establish myself, get into some contact and see if I could help out the hockey club,” Smyth said. “The only thing I did differently was to make sure I kept my shifts short, and it feels pretty good to be involved in a big win for our hockey club.”
The Oilers controlled the first period and had a 12-4 advantage in shots.
Despite carrying the play, Edmonton could not build on the lead and the Sharks tied it on the power play at 8:15 of the second.
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