EDMONTON, Alberta (AP)—In danger of falling out of playoff contention, the Edmonton Oilers knew they needed to come up big during their five-game homestand.
So far, so good.
Robert Nilsson and Kyle Brodziak each had a goal and an assist, and the Edmonton Oilers won their third straight game, 5-2 over the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night. Ethan Moreau, Sheldon Souray, and Denis Grebeshkov also scored for Edmonton, which improved to 3-0 on its critical homestand and has won four of its last five overall.
“We knew what a crucial point of the season this was,” Brodziak said. “Five games at home, especially playing some teams that we are going to be battling with for those last playoff spots. We knew tonight was a huge test and we did a good job in it.”
Oilers assistant captain Shawn Horcoff believes winning the last three at home gives this team a chance to be back in contention in the short term.
“It’s a huge stretch for us,” he said. “We have a tough road trip coming up. We knew that if we could get four or five wins out of this period, just how crucial it could be for us. It can put us in a position to go on the road and hopefully be in a playoff position at the All-Star break.”
Oilers coach Craig MacTavish says there is an improved mood in the locker room after Monday’s 4-0 win over the New York Islanders and now this 5-2 victory, two regulation wins after failing to do so in the previous 16 games.
“We’ve talked about confidence being the most important thing in the game and getting the goal scoring we’ve had in the last two games really solidifies the confidence on our team,” he said. “There are a lot of good things happening right now. We’ve got more confident players on the team right now than we’ve had at any point so far.”
“It was a tough start for us,” Coyotes defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. “It was one of those starts where we weren’t ready to play.”
The Oilers scored their first two goals just 28 seconds apart, beating goalie Ilya Bryzgalov on their first two shots.
The first goal came just 1:47 into the first period as Fernando Pisani intercepted a pass at the Edmonton blueline before dropping the puck back to Moreau, who beat Bryzgalov stick-side with a shot from the right faceoff dot.
The Oilers made it 2-0 at the 2:15 mark as Nilsson’s shot caromed off of Phoenix defenseman Zbynek Michalek right to the stick of Brodziak in front, and he scored his sixth of the season.
It looked like Brodziak had his seventh 7 minutes later after chipping the puck in during a mad scramble in front of the Coyotes’ net, but the play had been whistled dead just before the puck went in.
Boynton took a pair of penalties during that scramble, leading to Edmonton’s third goal as Souray unleashed a bullet from the point to make it 3-0 on Edmonton’s fourth shot of the game.
The Coyotes were given a chance to get back into the game with just over a minute remaining when Shane Doan got a short-handed breakaway before being slashed by Souray as he closed in on the Oilers’ net. Souray was tossed from the game with a major penalty and Doan was awarded a penalty shot, but he was unable to beat Oilers goalie Mathieu Garon, making his fifth consecutive start.
“I thought we hung in there and battled,” Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky said. “We got the penalty shot at 3-0, and if we score there it’s 3-1 and somewhat back into the game, and even at that point we don’t score.
The Oilers extended their lead to 4-0 midway through the second as Nilsson took advantage of giveaway by Derek Morris to create a 2-on-none breakaway which Nilsson finished.
Mikael Tellqvist then replaced Bryzgalov in goal for Phoenix.
The Coyotes finally stopped Garon’s bid for a second straight shutout when Peter Mueller made a nifty backhand pass through the crease to a pinching Ballard, who scored into an open net.
Edmonton restored its four-goal advantage less than 2 minutes later as defenseman Grebeshkov sneaked in while the teams played 4-on-4 to score his first NHL goal.
“It felt great to finally get one,” Grebeshkov said of scoring in his 71st career game. “It took me like three years. It was about time. Hopefully it’s the first of a whole lot more.”
Boynton closed the scoring 6 1/2 minutes into the third as he took a pass from Doan from behind the goal line and sent a deceptive wrist shot past Garon.
The Oilers were without D Joni Pitkanen, out with the flu. Dick Tarnstrom came in as a replacement. … Nilsson also returned to Edmonton’s lineup after two games as a healthy scratch. … Oilers captain Ethan Moreau has five points in his seven games back after missing 113 consecutive regular-season games due to injury. … Coyotes RW Radim Vrbata has 32 points in 40 games. His previous career high is 41 points, set last season while with Chicago. … Each team will have one representative at the NHL All-Star game as Oilers C Shawn Horcoff and the Coyotes’ Jovanovski were named to the Western Conference team on Thursday.