Now for something completely different ...
After witnessing back-to-back losses to the Minnesota Wild last week, the Edmonton Oilers faithful were treated to something they hadn't seen even a hint of in those games when the Nashville Predators came calling at Rexall Place last night - wide-open shinny and some great goaltending.
Add a penalty shot goal by Ryan Smyth for the winner in the third period to go along with loads of scoring chances as a backdrop for Jussi Markkanen and Tomas Vokoun, and the 17th capacity crowd of the season was buzzing even before heading to the parking lot happy after a 4-2 Oilers win, and a tie for first in the Northwest Division with Calgary.
That's different. That's hockey. That's two points. They peppered Jussi early and he stood in there strong for us," said Smyth, whose 3-1 goal 83 seconds into the final period stood up.
CONFIDENCE IN HIM
"We had confidence in him. It's a touchy subject with the goalies and talking about confidence and that, but Jussi had a solid game for us."
With all eyes on the goaltending situation and his team headed in the wrong direction after 4-1 and 4-2 losses to the amazingly efficient and dull Wild, Markkanen made the most of his first start since a tough night against the Canucks in Vancouver Dec. 21 when he made 29 saves.
Shawn Horcoff, Jason Smith, Smyth and Jarret Stoll took care of the rest before the Oilers jumped a jet for Calgary feeling good about themselves going into their last outing of 2005, against the Flames tonight.
"He played very well," said coach Craig MacTavish. "The Vancouver game, I think, was just a little blip along the way. He was super-solid tonight. They had a number of opportunities early."
While 25 shots by the teams produced nothing in the opening period, the Oilers got to Vokoun just 68 seconds into the second when a suddenly-hot Horcoff pounced on a puck in the corner, waltzed out in front and then spun and snapped a low shot off Dan Hamhuis into the net.
After going 18 games without a goal, Horcoff has notched five in his last seven games.
Markkanen, very sharp in stopping 13 shots in the first 20 minutes, could do little but watch as Scott Hartnell blazed a high slapshot past him with Jordin Tootoo cutting in front a couple minutes later to tie it 1-1.
It was Vokoun's turn to play spectator as the Oilers took the lead a second time at 10:18 when Smith's slapper from the boards found twine to make it 2-1 with Todd Harvey giving Nashville's stopper grief in front.
A COUPLE OF SAVES
"I didn't feel that good in the warm-up," admitted Markkanen, who got into the game quickly when the Predators pumped 10 shots at him in the first six minutes. "The shots early and making a couple of saves helped."
With a lead to work with after 40 minutes for the first time in nine games - the last time being a 3-2 win in Philadelphia Dec. 8 - on Smith's third goal of the season, the Oilers didn't fritter it away.
When Vokoun was called for tossing his stick in front of his net 1:23 into the third, Smyth walked in on the ensuing penalty shot and tucked the puck past him on a backhand-to-forehand deke for a 3-1 lead.
"I've been trying a bunch of different stuff in practice," said Smyth.
"I had a few moves in my mind, but it was nice to change it up and see that one go in for us."
Not long after Markkanen stiffed Martin Erat with a diving save at the side of the net, Steve Sullivan made a game of it at 14:50.
But, Stoll ended any drama with his one-timer on a power play to make it 4-2 at 16:41.