EDMONTON - The Oilers went toe-to-toe with the NHL's best team on Wednesday night and dropped a 4-1 decision at Rexall Place.
The victory, in fact, cemented Chicago's status as the best team in the NHL as the Blackhawks clinched the President's Trophy with the game's best record over the 2012-13 season.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Johnny Oduya and Patrick Kane -- with an empty-netter -- scored for the visitors, while Nail Yakupov tallied for Edmonton.
"We've got to start taking some pride in our defence," said Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff. "They're the best team in the league and when the best team comes in, you have to respect them. Doing that starts with getting pucks in deep and eliminating their offence and we obviously didn't do that early. And then even in their zone, lost a lot of one-on-one battles and just not hard enough defensively."
Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger agreed with his captain.
"It's painful when we have clearly identified against teams like Chicago that we need to stay with a simple game, that we need to be a patient team, that we need to take habits that maybe are good for us on the road with us," he began. "When you see right through the lineup, our puck management against a team like Chicago and how clearly they punish you with every opportunity early in the game, I'm not sure how much pain we need to understand that."
The Oilers came out of the gate with some great scoring chances and pressure in the Blackhawks end but it was Chicago that got on the board first just before the four-minute mark of the opening frame.
Jonathan Toews skated in on a two-on-one with Brandon Saad. Toews carried the puck over the line and elected to shoot, beating Edmonton starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk with a wrist shot from the top of the right circle.
Less than a minute later, Nail Yakupov got that goal back for the Oilers. Following a blast by Mark Fistric that went wide, the puck bounced off the end boards right to Nail Yakupov at the left face-off dot and the Russian rookie made no mistake, hammering it top corner past Blackhawks starting netminder Ray Emery to make it a 1-1 game.
"I think we did too many turnovers. We had a lot of power plays and we had a couple chances but weren't scoring," said a sombre Nail Yakupov after the game. "(I got a goal) but the team lost. I don't think about my goal now. We're losing and losing and losing. It doesn't feel too good."
With 11:49 to play in the first, Patrick Kane got in behind the Oilers defence and made a move on Dubnyk before shooting it five-hole to put Chicago back in the lead at 2-1.
The first penalty of the game went to 'Hawks captain Toews at the 10:07 mark for tripping, giving Edmonton a power play with a chance to get back on even terms but Chicago's penalty killers did a good job limiting the chances the Oilers got during the two-minute minor.
With just over six minutes to play in the opening period, Emery went off for an undisclosed reason and was replaced in goal by Corey Crawford.
Shots on goal after one period were 11 to 9 in favour of the Oilers.
Justin Schultz was sent off for hooking in the opening minute of the second period, giving Chicago its first power play of the game.
The Oilers killed that one off, but found themselves down a man again only a few minutes later when Fistric took an elbowing minor on Andrew Shaw.
After Edmonton had an 11-5 edge in shots at one point in the opening frame, Chicago had rattled off seven straight shots on Dubnyk and led the Oilers 12-11 in shots at the seven-minute mark of period two.
"I think Chicago brought the puck deep into our zone about 15 to 20 times in the second period," said Krueger. "The lessons are right in front of us. It only got a little wide open because of what we did with the puck. There were some good things happening in the first few minutes and then we deserted it altogether. That's the outcome we deserved because of our puck management, I would say."
When the Oilers finally did get a shot in the period, Jordan Eberle was completely robbed by Crawford. He attempted to go top corner glove side but the Blackhawks netminder snagged it out of the air.
Just past the period's midway point, the Blackhawks took their second penalty of the game and gave the Oilers power play another opportunity to pull into a tie. Viktor Stalberg received two for tripping.
Late in the second, Dubnyk made a nice stop on Kane after Kane quickly put a feed from Patrick Sharp on goal with both Blackhawks forwards in behind the Oilers defence.
Shots on goal after two periods were 16 to 13 for the Blackhawks.
Just before the five-minute mark of the third, Johnny Oduya pinched in with the puck and once he reached the circle, he rooted it past Dubnyk to double Chicago's lead to 4-1.
A cross-checking penalty to Michal Rozsival put Edmonton back on the power play with a chance to draw back to within a goal.
With 7:39 to play in the third, Mike Brown looked to be headed for a clearcut breakaway but as he was about to break free, he was chopped down by Saad. Instead of a penalty shot, it was another Edmonton power play.
The Oilers were denied by the Blackhawks penalty kill again. Saad bolted out of the penalty box and onto a breakaway that was thrwarted by a pokecheck from Dubnyk.
With just under two minutes to go, Sharp added an empty-net goal to seal the outcome.
-- Marc Ciampa, edmontonoilers.com
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