Second period goals by Jordan Eberle, Shawn Horcoff and Taylor Hall vaulted the home side to a commanding 3-0 lead, but Nikolai Khabibulin stole the show, turning aside 35 shots as the Oilers edged the division rival Vancouver Canucks 3-2 Tuesday night at Rexall Place.
4:17 into the game, the Oilers went to the power-play when Vancouver's Jannik Hansen was charged with delay of game; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins broke in a 2-on-1 with Jordan Eberle, but the chance was canceled with Hansen bulled through the Canucks net, stopping play.
RNH, Eberle and Taylor Hall peppered Roberto Luongo with four man-advantage shots, not including an in-tight goal-post, but the icebreaker couldn't be recorded.
The Canucks came right back, mind you, testing Nikolai Khabibulin with eight shots as the period's midway point passed. It was at this time, too, when Oilers D man Ryan Whitney headed to the locker room; the 28-year-old appeared to lose an edge on his own prior to leaving, one-footed, in obvious pain.
With about six minutes on the clock, Ben Eager and Lennart Petrell began to pound the Canucks, establishing a decided physical edge with three punishing hits on Maxim Lapierre and Dan Hamhuis.
A collective sigh echoed throughout Rexall Place when, with 1:55 to play, Whitney returned to the bench and eventually to the ice in a late-period skate with his usual partner, Corey Potter.
With 20 minutes expired, the Oilers and Canucks were tied 0-0 and visitors held a slim 13-10 edge in shots.
Post-period: Ryan Whitney has injured his right knee and will not return.
The Oilers' 11th shot came 1:53 into the period, but Jordan Eberle made sure it was a good one. Taylor Hall made a crisp pass to No. 14 at the near circle and the snake-bit sophomore rifled a wrister past Luongo under the bar for the 1-0 marker.
Ben Eager picked up a boarding minor at 2:22, sending Vancouver to the power-play. The Canucks added another attempt on Khabibulin, but nothing too dangerous as the Oilers' 1-0 lead held.
At 5:58, Luongo misplayed the puck behind in goal, setting the stage for the Oilers to grab a 2-0 lead. Ryan Smyth made a heads-up centering pass to the captain, who tapped the puck home into the gaping cage.
Just as quickly (56 seconds later), the Oilers went up 3-0. Nugent-Hopkins delivered a strong seeing-eye feed to Eberle at the goal-mouth; and while he was unable to corral the loose disc, Taylor Hall was on the scene to pounce and slide the puck home, establishing a commanding three-goal cushion.
Canucks Head Coach Alain Vigneault elected to pull Luongo at this moment, too, and not without some theatrics from the visiting 'tender. Luongo skated to the bench and, while being heckled by 16,839 at Rexall, he broke his stick over the boards. Corey Schneider stepped into replace the veteran between the pipes.
A roughing minor to Ben Eager at 7:42 put the Canucks back on the man-advantage, but the Oilers came up a strong kill, improving on the team's 90.6 PK percentage and preserving the 3-0 control of the scoreboard.
The Canucks were able to snipe one past the thought-to-be impenetrable Khabibulin moments later. Alex Edler issued a tape-to-tape pass to Cody Hodgson and, without a moment's hesitation, No. 9 delivered the puck upstairs on the Oilers' veteran netminder.
Looking to reestablish the team's three-goal advantage, the Oilers went back to the power-play at 12:26 and again at 18:19 when Daniel Sedin and Maxim Lapierre picked up separate hooking minors.
The 4-1 goal couldn't be recorded early, but the Oilers would have 18 power-play seconds carried over into the third period. WIth 40 minutes in the books, the orange and blue led 3-1 but trailed 23-17 on the shot clock.
The Oilers couldn't cash on with the remaining seconds and soon went on the defensive when Ladislav Smid was called for elbowing at 3:43. The Canucks' couldn't score, bowing to an 0-for-3 success rate on the evening.
Vancouver's 27th shot put Khabibulin to work in a big way, but the 15-year NHL veteran made an heroic stop, turning aside Sami Salo on appeared to be a sure-goal. But moments later at 7:43, the Canucks made amends when Alex Burrows snapped the puck past Khabibulin to bring the Canucks within one.
As the period's 10-minute mark passed, the Oilers were still up 3-2 but were down 33-21 in shots.
With 6:29 remaining, Schneider came up with a miraculous save to keep his team's one-goal disadvantage on the board. Taylor Hall orchestrated a pretty, behind-the-back pass to Nugent-Hopkins in the slot. In an instant, RNH dished to Eberle down low, but his goal-line attempt was blanked by a diving denial.
The Canucks pulled Schneider for an extra-attacker with 1:20 to play. Vancouver's furious attempt to tie it up fell short, as the Oilers killed the remaining seconds in a hard-fought 3-2 win.
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