EDMONTON - In a pre-game ceremony celebrating Hockey Night in Canada's 60th anniversary, Don Cherry proclaimed that Saturday night's matchup would be a "heckuva hockey game."
He was right. And if you believe in that sort of thing, it was also the night Edmonton turned its season around. The Oilers outshot the Colorado Avalanche 56-29 -- setting a new franchise record for shots on goal in a single game (the previous record was 55, set on Mar. 21, 1986 in a 5-4 win over the Minnesota Northstars) -- and rallied back from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits en route to a 6-4 win.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins snapped a 24-game goal-scoring drought, Nikolai Khabibulin made 16 saves in relief of Devan Dubnyk who was pulled after 20 minutes, and Magnus Paajarvi scored the game-winner with only 1:34 to play.
Paajarvi wasn't even supposed to play, but got the call just before puck drop as Lennart Petrell took a slap shot off the noggin in the warm up. ("Thank God for the helmet," said Head Coach Ralph Krueger. Petrell is listed as day-to-day.)
"He was probably eating hot dogs already when we pulled him in."
"I was still on the couch at about 6:30," laughed Paajarvi, looking back at the goal that was deftly set up by veteran winger Ryan Smyth. "I got down to the rink at about 7:30 to get ready for a workout. I got the call at 7:55 to go in.
"I didn't really think at all. It was pretty awesome. I don't think I'm going to keep that as my pre-game routine, but it was nice."
From top to bottom, it was easily Edmonton's most complete effort of the season. All the storylines Oilers fans had been clamoring for fell into place.
"It was one of the most dominating offensive performances I've ever seen," said Khabibulin. "Not only did we put up over 50 shots, but we created a lot of chances and the way we drove the net was pretty amazing to see. It feels awesome to win. It was a pretty entertaining game to watch."
"It was great for us," added Nugent-Hopkins, who was relieved to have gotten the monkey off his back with a big second-period tally. "It showed a lot of character. We wanted to establish an early shot lead and it paid off for us in the end. It's something we've talked about for a couple weeks now and we wanted to make sure that we did that early.
"I've had awesome support from Taylor and Jordan all year. It was a great pass by Taylor."
While the end result was exactly what the Oilers needed, it didn't begin as planned.
Cody McLeod got the Avalanche on the board at 1:22, promptly corralling a loose puck and depositing it into the empty cage behind Dubnyk.
Still, the Oilers were in complete control and were outshooting the Avalanche 23-12 after one, but Matt Duchene had something to say about it. First, Duchene put the moves on Sam Gagner, slip-siding past the crafty pivot and luckily sliding the puck past Dubnyk at 18:47.
Duchene then picked up an assist 24 seconds later as he spotted Jamie McGinn speeding down the left side. One crisp pass and a picture-perfect shot later, it was suddenly 3-0 Avalanche.
A late-period power-play provided the home side with a chance to get back in it. Collecting a rebound at the doorstep, Ales Hemsky roofed a shot over Semyon Varlamov with 3.1 seconds to play in the period.
Spurred by Hemsky's goal, the Oilers continued to press but couldn't solve Varlamov. At 6:24, after a gallant effort on the penalty kill, John Mitchell put Colorado up 4-1.
"No. We never lost hope, especially in this building," said Paajarvi.
"It's a credit to the players that the bench stayed really calm," added Krueger. "There was so much pain in the 1-4 situation. Varlamov had an excellent start and there were some strange bounces when you looked at the shot clock.
"Everybody stayed with it, everybody kept pushing each other in the right direction."
Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle led the way. Near the end of a shift late in the second period, Hall spotted Nugent-Hopkins patrolling the slot. RNH's bullet of a one-timer clunked off Varlamov's blocker-side post and in, ending Nugent-Hopkins' lengthy skid and making it a 4-2 game.
Nugent-Hopkins had last lit the lamp on Mar. 16, 2012 in a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames.
Just 59 seconds later, the Oilers made it a 4-3 game. In vintage fashion, Hemsky slalomed his way down the slot with some nifty stick work, burning the defender with a slick, side-to-side move before sliding the puck past Varlamov for one of the prettiest goals of the season.
After Eberle cashed the equalizer with a power-play goal at 8:58, Khabibulin held the fort and gave his club a chance to pull ahead.
"Ralph told me right away walking off the bench that I was going in," said the veteran. "I got the full intermission to prepare and get loose in the dressing room. It's a lot better (than going in midway through a period)."
"We were planning to bring Khabibulin in after the 2-0 goal," said Krueger, adding that Dubnyk faced some "bad bounces" early on and wasn't given much help. Dubnyk made nine saves on 12 shots.
"Kudos to Khabibulin for working, for battling as hard as he did. He was our leader down the stretch and gave our team so much energy. Just his body language was outstanding."
Not only did the Oilers register 56 shots on the Colorado netminder, but it was also the first time all season the club had recorded more than four goals in a single game. Eberle added an empty-netter to make it six at 18:51.
"As a group, we had some time this week (to talk about the struggling offence)," said Krueger. "It truly was our focal point and the final piece of the puzzle. We've spoken a lot about getting our offensive game going, scoring goals and the necessity of having bodies going to the net after pucks once they get there.
"The whole lineup showed up today."
OIL SPILLS: In addition to losing Lennart Petrell before the game even started, Teemu Hartikainen was forced to leave midway through with a shoulder injury. Ralph Krueger says his condition will be assessed on Sunday and Monday at practice and that he "wont be ruled out" for Tuesday's game vs. Los Angeles.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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