Yakupov, Gagner's heroics propel Oilers to unlikely overtime victory
|Edmonton's Nail Yakupov wires a slap shot on goal during Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club).
EDMONTON - You couldn't have scripted that result. Not in a million years.
Here Come the Oilers, indeed.
Just when it seemed all hope was lost and that the world was against them, Nail Yakupov and the Edmonton Oilers pulled out a miracle. Down by one with 1:11 to play, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored to make it a 1-1 game.
Or so they thought.
Sam Gagner was called on a questionable crease violation and Nugent-Hopkins' heroic tally was erroneously wiped out. It seemed the game was as good as over as garbage, frustratingly disposed by angry fans, littered the ice at Rexall Place.
But with 4.7 seconds to go, Yakupov scored one of the most unlikely goals you'll ever see. The celebration wasn't too bad either, as the 18-year-old slid on his knees down the length of the ice, stopping at Devan Dubnyk's crease where ecstatic teammates arrived to share in the ecstasy.
Completely re-written at a moment's notice, the script was complete when Gagner ended the game with a power-play goal early in overtime.
"I didn't understand what was happening and was like, 'What am I doing?' I didn't hear anybody because the fans were going crazy," Yakupov said. "It's a great feeling. It's amazing.
"We showed our heart and our character. We had a lot of penalties but our penalty kill was good and we battled through it. We had a couple chances to score on the power-play but their goalie played well. We pushed for the win."
"The passion and excitement he plays with is unbelievable," added Gagner. "It gets his teammates and the fans going. I think it's great. I'm completely, 100 percent good with it. When you tie the game with four seconds remaining, you can't say anything against it.
"We haven't had much playoff hockey here lately, but that's as close to that atmosphere as you're going to get. We want to win those tight games, especially against teams like LA. To beat like them this, it feels even more special."
Smiling ear-to-ear in his post-game press conference, Head Coach Ralph Krueger could barely contain his excitement. In his 23 years of coaching experience, he says Thursday's win was the most thrilling one he's ever been a part of.
"If we want passion and challenge, there was a lot of that tonight," he said. "You have to love the compete in the group. The reaction to the San Jose game was something we were really looking for and the persistence at the end of the game truly showed the character of this group that we've been feeling.
"Overall, it was a lot of fun."
When asked about Yakupov's exuberant celebration, with a laugh, Krueger said Yakupov has "watched a lot of soccer games."
If you didn't pick up the latest edition of the NHL rulebook on your way in Thursday night, you might have learned something new.
Delay of Game -- Smothering the Puck: That might be a new one for Ladislav Smid (it is for the 2012-13 season), who was called for that and three other minors (cross-checking, instigating and instigating with a visor), along with a fighting major in the first period alone.
In only 2:24 of actual playing time, Smid was assessed 23 minutes in penalties when you factor in the 10-minute misconduct that automatically goes with an instigator. The Kings of Los Angeles were certainly no Saints either, as the Oilers squandered three power-play opportunities in the opening 20.
Both teams came away empty on lengthy 5-on-3's. The Kings had another in the second and the Oilers were poised to have the same luxury, but a faceoff violation by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins put an end to that.
It was like river hockey -- you know, if local ponds and outdoor rinks had NHL referees in charge.
"The explanation was [Gagner] was bumped into the crease but did not make an attempt to leave the connection to the goaltender," Krueger said, outlining the explanation referees Tom Kowal and Greg Kimmerly gave him when the original tying goal was called back.
"I'm really happy we scored," Krueger laughed. "It was the strangest game ever. It made for an interesting script, but it's not the kind of script we really want in an NHL game."
By night's end, the Kings went 0-for-7 on the power-play while the Oilers went 1-for-9 -- scoring at the most critical time, on a 4-on-3 in overtime to win it.
Los Angeles' lone goal was scored at even strength on an unfortunate, unlucky play. Nick Schultz attempted a cross-ice pass at the offensive blue line, but he got little of it and Los Angeles broke back the other way with numbers. Kyle Clifford sent Jeff Carter in alone, and the sniper made no mistake by deking to his backhand and shelving a shot past Devan Dubnyk at 13:26 of the second period.
Other than that, the 25-year-old was exceptional. Dubnyk had help from his goal posts as three Kings shots caught iron early on, but it was the rebound effort the Oilers' starter needed.
"I wanted to go out, have a good game and get back to doing the right things out there. It was an exciting game and awesome to get the win."
"He truly has a swagger to him that's a team swagger," Krueger added. "He bounced back great yesterday in practice. He was extremely positive about everything."
On the bench as Yakupov scored the equalizer, Dubnyk got a good look at the rookie's celebration.
"I wasn't in the net, but I would have been worried (that he would have slid between my legs). If you're going to have a celebration like that, it might as well be in that situation."
"Have you ever celebrated a goal like that?" one reporter asked Yakupov.
"I don't know. Probably. I think so," the youngster said. "I've never played in a building that loud. I think we have the best fans in the world. I didn't hear anything. I think it's good for us, good support for our team.
"They're part of us."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick