EDMONTON - On the scale from 1 to must-win, that one had do-or-die written all over it.
It certainly wasn't easy, nor did it look pretty at times, but the Edmonton Oilers earned their seventh win and 17th point of the season with a big come-from-behind 3-2 shootout win over the Phoenix Coyotes Saturday afternoon.
Nikolai Khabibulin made 34 saves, in addition to stopping Mikkel Boedker and David Rundlad in the shootout.
"We were very disappointed with the way the last couple games went and the importance at this point was clear," said Head Coach Ralph Krueger. "It's a compliment to the team to come back in a game of this magnitude. To go on the road now with these points gives us some good energy here."
Goals by Kyle Chipchura and Matthew Lombardi put Phoenix up 2-0 and it stayed that way until the 16:22 mark of the second period.
Krueger doesn't often employ the tough-love philosophy, but the Oilers needed a swift kick in the rear after showing up with another listless effort in the opening 45 minutes.
"That's possible," laughed Krueger, responding to Terry Jones' query of whether or not his post-period address came across differently than it has in the past. "I don't throw things, but I've told you before that positive doesn't mean friendly. It means solutions, growth and all those things that need to come. Sometimes those messages need to be different than other days.
"I felt this was a critical point. What happened in the last 48 hours here, there was a lot of emotion in our room and thankfully we were able to pull out a win."
Spurred by Ales Hemsky's inability to clear the puck after it was rimmed around the boards, Phoenix took a 1-0 lead at 5:23. Circling into the low slot, Chipchura capitalized on the ensuing defensive zone panic by hammering a shot past Nikolai Khabibulin.
Undisciplined penalties to Ben Eager, Jeff Petry and Chris VandeVelde put the Oilers in three separate shorthanded situations early on. Despite being down a man, the Oilers had several chances to score as Gagner and Eric Belanger were both sprung on breakaways, but neither could solve Mike Smith.
Smith made 41 saves in the loss.
With 13:45 to play in the second, Nick Schultz was assessed a double minor for high-sticking Coyotes forward David Moss. With only 33 seconds left in the infraction, Lombardi scored to make it a 2-0 game.
Chris VandeVelde lost his stick on the play and traveled well out of position to chase it down, creating space for Boedker to hammer a one-timer. The initial shot banked off Khabibulin's blocker-side post but, with the veteran netminder down and out, Lombardi picked up the loose puck in the crease and slid it home.
Moments after Eager's penalty expired, the Oilers got on the board. Nail Yakupov chased Gagner's diagonal dump ahead of Keith Yandle and quickly centered a no-look, behind-the-back pass to a hard-charging Eberle. With Mike Smith caught deep in his crease, Eberle chipped it up and over the 6-foot-4 goalie's shoulder.
"We know how we've responded after wins," said Gagner, who picked up an assist on Eberle's goal. Gagner has now recorded a point in all but three games this year and is at a point-per-game pace through 17 contests this season. "It's not good enough. We've got to keep our foot on the gas. When we play the right way, we get rewarded. We have to keep doing that."
With 12:03 left in regulation, the Oilers went back to the power-play when Yandle hauled down Hemsky on a promising odd-man rush. Just seven seconds into the advantage, Justin Schultz's point shot was redirected en route by Smyth and directly on to the tape of Hartikainen at the doorstep. No. 56 made no mistake, depositing it into the empty cage behind and bringing the Oilers back on even terms.
"It felt pretty good," said Hartikainen. "I was in a good position, but it was a good bounce, too, and I went top cheese."
The Coyotes came into Saturday's matinee with a 5-0-0 record when leading after two periods. Conversely, the Oilers improved to 4-3-2 when trailing after two.
"We should come from behind every game," laughed Eberle. "We found a way and that's all that matters."
The Oilers peppered Smith with 15 shots in the third period and overtime, bringing their total to 43 on the night. A 4-on-3 power-play in overtime gave the Oilers a chance to win, but nothing was generated and the game progressed to a shootout.
"I had it planned," Gagner said of the move that made him famous in his rookie year. "I use it in practice a lot and it had been working. I said, ‘Enough's enough, I've got to try it.' It's all or nothing because I can easily lose that in the corner.
"It's nice to get the two points in here."
"I've seen Sam do that move multiple times in practice," added Eberle. "He's got it down pat. When you get into a shootout, it may not look like much, but it's a huge point. With the standings and how tight they are, you need points."
The Oilers now head out on a nine-game, 17-day road trip beginning Monday in Chicago.
"It will be a challenging trip," said Krueger. "To come back to Edmonton in the same position we are now, we'd be quite pleased."
Ryan Jones made his return to the lineup after missing the entire season to this point. The 28-year-old played 14:03, recorded five shots on goal and one hit.
"Ryan Jones was outstanding," said Krueger. "He was Ryan Jones. He was Jonsey. He was penalty killing, had an unbelievable scoring chance and for him to have a game like that is going to be excellent for his confidence."
Before the game, Lennart Petrell was added to the IR. It's a retroactive move, meaning Petrell could suit up on Monday against the Blackhawks. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound winger failed a concussion protocol test.
"One out of six players feels no symptoms and still fails the test post-concussion. That's what happened with Lennart," said Krueger.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick