The official team motto in Edmonton this season is “Here Come The Oilers.” It’s also a good way to describe the team’s first run at playoff contention in years.
Justin Schultz had a goal and two assists as the Edmonton Oilers continued their march toward a playoff spot by winning their fourth in a row, 4-1 over the Calgary Flames on Monday.
Taylor Hall, Ryan Jones and Nail Yakupov also scored for the Oilers (15-13-7) who have gone 7-2-2 in their last 11 games.
With the win, the Oilers kept pace in the tight Western Conference playoff race, sitting in a tie with Columbus, one point back of the eighth-place St. Louis Blues.
“We had an optimal start again,” said Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger. “When you take advantage of early opportunities, you put yourself in the driver’s seat.”
Krueger said one of the things he is most pleased with is that his team wasn’t satisfied with the way they played, despite the big win over their provincial rivals.
“I thought it was good that we didn’t feel good about the way we played all the way through the game today,” he said. “It’s a sign of the maturity of the group. The wins and losses are critical right now, but how we play and maintain this run is important. We feel confident right now and just want to keep nudging as a group.”
Jones agreed that his team allowed themselves to gear down after the early lead.
“That definitely wasn’t the best hockey we’ve played in this stretch, but we did what it took to win,” he said. “Devan Dubnyk stood on his head.”
Dubnyk had 33 saves in the Oilers net.
Brian McGratton replied for the Flames (13-17-4), who were likely rattled as defenceman Jay Bouwmeester was traded to St. Louis shortly before the contest in what looks like a fire sale in Calgary.
“We gave them some odd-man rushes and if you get caught standing around you are going to pay,” said Flames centre Matt Stajan. “They caught us napping for those first two goals and we were chasing them for the rest of the night.”
Stajan said the trade before the game and the one the week before that sent captain Jarome Iginla out of town were tough to take, but have to be overcome.
“That’s twice in the last week that has happened and you can say all you want about it, but as players we can’t make excuses,” he said. “We have to come out and play with more grit. Especially against our provincial rivals.”
Flames head coach Bob Hartley said the trade deadline can take its toll on players when they are in the situation Calgary is in.
“This is the time of the year where there is speculation and rumours, but there are still games going on,” he said.
The Flames have lost two in a row and six of their last eight games.
Edmonton struck first just before the four-minute mark to start the opening period as Hall spotted Schultz creeping in from the point and fed him the puck in the slot where the rookie was able to beat Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff for his sixth of the season.
The pair reversed spots on the scoresheet midway through the first as Schultz picked off a pass in the Calgary zone and sent it to Hall in front. Hall was able to freeze Kiprusoff with a deft move and then lift in a backhand for his fourth goal in the last two games.
Edmonton scored on both of its first two shots in the game, similar to what happened in their 4-0 blanking of Vancouver on Saturday.
The Oilers went up 3-0 with three-and-a-half minutes to play in the first as Jones beat Cory Sarich to a puck along the boards and muscled a one-handed backhand shot that somehow got through Kiprusoff. The veteran goalie, who many believe may have been playing in his final game as a Flame, was yanked in favour of backup Joey MacDonald after allowing three goals on six shots.
The game slowed considerably in the scoreless second period with the best chances belonging to the Flames, however Dubnyk was able to come up with a pair of big saves on a tip by Curtis Glencross and a nice move by McGratton.
The Oilers put the game away for good midway through the third as MacDonald got a piece of a Yakupov shot from the slot, only to see it dribble in behind him. It was the first goal in 17 games and seventh on the season for the 2012 first-overall draft pick.
Calgary spoiled Dubnyk’s hopes of earning a second consecutive shutout with just 1:32 left as McGrattan scored.
The two teams play a rematch in Calgary on Wednesday.
Notes: It was the second of four games between the two provincial rivals this season. Calgary took the first contest 4-3 on Jan. 26. The Flames have had the better of the matches in recent years, and came into the game having won 10 of their last 12 meetings over the Oilers ... The latest trade came on the heels of last week’s trade to Pittsburgh of captain Jarome Iginla, who had been an Oiler killer since the mid-90s with 82 points against Edmonton ... The Oilers also made news earlier in the day with the resigning of defenceman Ladislav Smid to a four-year deal worth US$3.5 million per season ... Hall was named the NHL third star of the week after a recent stretch saw him net five goals and eight points ... The Oilers have recalled centre Anton Lander from AHL Oklahoma City with Eric Belanger out with a groin injury. Lander did not suit up in the game, however ... Calgary’s top goal scorers, Glencross and Michael Cammalleri, came into the contest having managed just five of their combined 25 goals on the road.Report Typo/Error