EDMONTON - Sam Gagner recorded a goal and three assists, while Ales Hemsky netted the game-winner with 3:08 to play as the Edmonton Oilers defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-4 Thursday night at Rexall Place.
With the win, the Oilers move back to .500 (13-13-7) and sit tied with the Dallas Stars for 10th in the West with 33 points, three back of the eighth and final playoff spot.
"It's huge for us, especially with how the game went," said Gagner, who collected his 250th (and 251st) career point in the victory. "With the way the standings are right now, you have to find ways to get clean wins. If we're going to fight our way back into the playoff race, we've got to do that.
"It's a nice feeling."
Up against the League's lowest-scoring team (2.15 goals per game), the Oilers didn't get the start they needed. Columbus jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 10 seconds in as Cam Atkinson sifted a long-range wrist shot past Nikolai Khabibulin.
Up 1-0, Columbus was also in possession of a 9-1 lead in shots after only seven minutes.
The Blue Jackets made it a 2-0 game with 7:56 to play as Atkinson dished to Matt Calvert, who converted a one-time shot from the far faceoff circle past Khabibulin.
Magnus Paajarvi collected his seventh goal of the season and first in five games, bringing the Oilers within one at 15:09.
"We had moments they were they outworking us, but I thought we responded well," said Jordan Eberle. "They scored right away and they scored again, but we found a way to come back.
"It was big that we beat these guys in regulation."
With 2:57 to play in the period, Blue Jackets forward Artem Anisimov was assessed a tripping minor. The ensuing Oilers power-play generated plenty, including a briefly chaotic goalmouth scramble 40 seconds in, but the opportunity passed without a goal.
The Blue Jackets led 12-8 in shots after one.
Almost as quickly as the Blue Jackets gained their 1-0 edge earlier on, the Oilers got back on even terms only 39 seconds into the middle frame. The reunited top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle -- who combined to record eight points Tuesday in St. Louis -- continued their magic, as Eberle dangled inside out, right down main street, before depositing a soft shot underneath Bobrovsky's left pad.
"When we watched them play for 10 minutes, they outworked us, they retrieved pucks that we didn't even battle for and we edged ourselves back in after the 2-0 goal," said Head Coach Ralph Krueger. "It took a lot of character tonight to win this game and it took a lot of guts to keep digging out of holes that we put ourselves in."
The kids went right back to work moments later, dominating the Blue Jackets with a tiring, minute-long shift that generated a number of high-quality scoring chances. As a result of their efforts, Jackets pivot Sean Collins was sent off for high-sticking and the Oilers went to their second power-play of the evening.
It, too, passed without incident, however.
At 10:10 of the second period, Mike Brown and Jared Boll went toe-to-toe in a riveting 90-second tilt. Both came out slugging, but it was deemed a draw after each player landed a number of damaging punches.
"It takes passion to play, stay in the race and keep contact with the Top 8," said Krueger. "(Brown) has been fantastic to have around. He's very responsible in his game and has been a great addition to our group."
Brown required a minor repair after he was cut above his left eye. As he skated off to the dressing room, Rexall Place erupted in appreciation of their enforcer's efforts.
Once the dust settled, the Blue Jackets went to their first power-play of the night after Lennart Petrell was assessed an interference minor at 14:30.
Shorthanded, Sam Gagner and Ryan Jones burst back the other way on a clear-cut 2-on-1. Racing in to meet Gagner's pinpoint crease-side pass, Jones made contact but was denied by Bobrovsky, who was on the case with his 12th save of the evening.
Following a questionable no-goal call, Columbus took a 3-2 lead anyway 18:34. With time and space to pick his spot, Anisimov rifled a shot that popped the water bottle behind Khabibulin.
Demonstrating one of the prettiest passing plays of the season, the Oilers responded less than a minute later. Ryan Jones spotted Nail Yakupov, who then dropped the puck back to a hard-charging Shawn Horcoff in the slot. With an open net to shoot for, the captain made no mistake by cashing the equalizer.
Just as he did an hour-and-a-half earlier, Atkinson scored in the opening half-minute to give the Blue Jackets a 3-2 lead early in the third. After allowing four goals on 21 shots, Khabibulin was pulled in favour of Devan Dubnyk.
"There wasn't really a plan or too much thought about in that situation," said Krueger. "We'd come back three times in the game already and we didn't need something radical to come back again. Khabby had a bit of a rough night to that point. It was a gut feel and sometimes it happens and it works."
Edmonton pulled even once more as Corey Potter blasted a 90-foot slap shot past Bobrovsky at 3:06.
With 3:08 to play, Ales Hemsky scored a beauty -- in fact, one of the prettiest goals of the season to date -- to put the Oilers up 5-4. With the entire Blue Jackets defence to beat, Hemsky dangled around them all and tucked the puck past Bobrovsky on the Oilers' 24th shot.
"It was a big goal for us and I'm happy about that and happy we won," said Hemsky. "The effort at the start of the game wasn't really good for us. We knew this game was really important for us to stay in the race and we had to start better.
"Fortunately we got a win in the end."
The Blue Jackets' attack was relentless in the final two minutes, but Gagner put the game away with an empty-netter as the Oilers escaped with a 6-4 win.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrickk
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