The Edmonton Oilers threw two curves at the San Jose Sharks last night at Rexall Place.
They not only activated captain Jason Smith and his busted big toe from injured reserve, as expected, they unleashed Ethan Moreau several days before many thought he'd return from a sprained right ankle.
The real bender, though, was coach Craig MacTavish's decision to give much-maligned Ty Conklin his first action since Feb. 10 - rather than go with Mike Morrison, who'd beaten San Jose twice in shootouts this season - with the Oilers looking to snap a four-game losing streak and the Sharks four points back with two games in hand.
Despite those twists, it was Ales Hemsky who provided the straight goods, scoring a highlight reel goal with 1:07 to play as Conklin won his first game since Jan. 3 in a 3-2 nail-biter over the Sharks.
"It looked pretty good from any seat in the place," smiled Conklin, asked about the goal by Hemsky, which gave him his first win since a 3-0 shutout of Chicago.
Hemsky, who'd gone nine games without a goal, took a pass from Smith and danced through a host of checkers waving helplessly in his wake before tucking a backhand past Vesa Toskala at 18:53.
Conklin did the rest with 19 saves in a gutsy display that won't keep GM Kevin Lowe from trying to land Curtis Joseph, but did move the Oilers six points up on the Sharks.
"Ty has been itching to get an opportunity and he stepped in and played really well," said Smith, who picked up two assists.
"He made big saves for us throughout the game and any time your goalie is making saves, keeping you in the game and giving you a chance to win, that's all you can ask."
Conklin, who last played in a relief appearance in a 6-3 loss to Minnesota, escaped unscathed in the first 20 minutes, stopping six shots and getting some help - Steve Bernier and Joe Thornton rattled pucks off the pipes.
More lucky than good early, Conklin settled in and got the Oilers to the second intermission in a scoreless tie, with saves on Jonathon Cheechoo and on a Patrick Marleau deflection in the final two minutes of the middle frame being his best work.
"I think it was this time of year the last season that we played when Ty got hot for us," said Steve Staios.
"This is great to see. I think everybody goes through trying times in their career at one point or another and he's shown a lot of class. It was good to see him win."
It was Toskala who cracked first as Raffi Torres banged a loose puck into the cage 3:29 into the third for a 1-0 lead, but it took the Sharks just 19 seconds to get even as Patrick Marleau shovelled a puck under Conklin when Bernier's pass trickled to him in tight.
The Oilers returned the favour after Thornton tucked a Cheechoo feed past Conklin for a 2-1 lead with less than five minutes to play as Shawn Horcoff tied it just 65 seconds later in a scramble. Then came Hemsky.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit surprised, especially the way he's been rotating the goalies lately," Conklin said of MacTavish's decision to start him.
"I've been trying to keep a positive frame of mind through this whole thing, knowing I was eventually going to be back in there."
MAKING MOVES: With the activation of Smith and Moreau, the Oilers put Michael Peca (groin strain) and Matt Greene (bruised leg) on the injured reserve list.
AROUND THE RINK: Moreau made his presence felt, dropping the gloves with Rob Davison in the second period in retaliation for a hit on Horcoff.