Facing one of the toughest trips imaginable, the Edmonton Oilers didn’t want the extra weight of a monkey on their backs for the journey.
Jordan Eberle scored in regulation and in the shootout as the Oilers snapped a two-game slide with a 3-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday afternoon.
Sam Gagner also scored in the shootout and Teemu Hartikainen had the other goal in regulation for the Oilers (7-7-3), who rallied from a 2-0 deficit to close out their five-game home stand 2-3.
Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger said it was crucial his team get a win before heading out on what could be a season-defining nine-game road trip.
“We were very disappointed with our last two games and the magnitude of these two points was clear to us,” he said. “To be down 2-0 was a real test of our mettle and our makeup.
‘To go on the road with these points gives us some good energy that we desperately needed.’
Gagner agreed that the team simply could not allow themselves to go on such a long journey on a three-game skid.
“We desperately needed to win this game,” he said. “We weren’t happy with how the home stand went. We knew how big a lift it would be to come into this game and find a way to win it. It’s a good feeling here right now, but we have to keep our foot on the gas for this trip and continue with the right habits.”
Kyle Chipchura and Mikkel Boedker scored for the Coyotes (8-6-3), who had a two-game winning streak snapped.
“It was a disappointing to lose after having a 2-0 lead,” said Coyotes captain Shane Doan. “You expect to win at that point and unfortunately we didn’t. We had opportunities on the power play and we didn’t capitalize on them. We have to be better than that.”
Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith was excellent with 41 saves, but couldn’t stop Eberle and Gagner in the shootout.
“Those were two of the best penalty shots that I have seen in my life,” Krueger said. “Smith is one of the best goalies in the league, those goals were just world class.”
The Coyotes started the scoring after some prolonged pressure just over five minutes into the game. Chipchura shovelled a shot towards the net that just trickled across the goal line before Oilers starter Nikolai Khabibulin could reach back to glove it to safety.
Edmonton had a couple of opportunities to tie the game late in the first, both short handed. Eric Belanger and then Gagner were able to break loose on breakaways, but both were stoned by Smith.
The Oilers came close again five minutes into the second period as Ryan Jones lifted a rebound over Smith, only to see defenceman Keith Yandle swoop in and glove it out of harm’s way.
Phoenix made it 2-0 midway through the second with Oiler Nick Schultz serving a double minor for high-sticking. Edmonton had killed off the bulk of the penalty before a Mikkel Boedker shot got past Khabibulin and hit the post, allowing Lombardi to sweep in the rebound from the doorstep.
Edmonton finally got on the board with 3:38 remaining in the second period as Nail Yakupov showed some speed hustling for a dump in and sent a backhand pass to Eberle who chipped it past Smith.
The Oilers tied the game eight minutes into the third on the power play as Ryan Smyth tipped a Justin Schultz shot and it went straight to Hartikainen at the side of the net for his first of the season.
Edmonton had the best chance in overtime with a power play, but Smith was able to make a dramatic glove save on a hard shot by Gagner.
Khabibulin stopped Boedker and David Rundblad in the shootout and finished with 34 saves.
The Oilers now embark on a nine-game road trip, starting Monday in Chicago, with the Canadian men’s curling championships occupying Rexall Place for the next two weeks.
“We weren’t the greatest team at home during this run,” Eberle said. “At least with this win we have some momentum going into the road trip.”
The Coyotes are right back at it on Sunday in Calgary.
Notes: Edmonton forward Taylor Hall served the first of a two-game suspension for his hit on Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck on Thursday. ... Oilers forward Ryan Jones played his first game of the season since suffering an eye injury during a practice session during the lockout... Edmonton defenceman Ryan Whitney was a healthy scratch for the fifth time this season. ... Phoenix was without forward Radim Vrbata (lower body) and defenceman Derek Morris (upper body).