SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers back in playoff hunt

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

EDMONTON -- Battered, beaten, heading out on the road without their top goaltender and most gifted offensive player, there were calls for the Edmonton Oilers to fold the tents, count on the lottery, and rebuild from scratch.

Yet a record-breaking road trip where they won all five games has the Oilers back in the playoff hunt, three points out of the eighth and final spot heading into last night's NHL action.

Suddenly the club has the city excited about hockey again.

"It's terrific, none of the past Edmonton teams have been able to do that which is good for us," said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn following a 5-3 win Friday in St. Louis. "But we're just trying to play and do the simple things. We're trying to become a respectable team and the respect has to start within ourselves, and I think we're starting to gain that amongst ourselves."

The Oilers had been anything but respectable prior to their latest excursion.

They won three of 13 games in November, and were coming off a 7-3 loss, on the road, to the Vancouver Canucks.

Having just two road wins heading into the opening game of the road trip, it seemed unlikely the Oilers would be able to lift themselves out of the hole they'd dug the previous month.

But a win in Detroit was followed by victories over Dallas, Florida, Tampa Bay and finally St. Louis, where the club battled back from a 3-0 deficit with five unanswered goals.

"Our guys got scrappy and somewhere in the middle of the second period, we started to play," Quinn said. "We had a lot of guys get on board and we finished strong.

"To come back against anyone is a good builder for us, because let's face it, we're struggling to become a good team, but we're working hard to do that and this is a big step for us."

Down three goals at the end of a trip where they had four wins in the bag, the Oilers could've easily called it a night, patted themselves on the back and started focusing on an upcoming four-game homestand.

But Gilbert Brule's late goal in the second period gave the Oilers a spark. Then his second midway through the third had them believing.

By the time Sam Gagner tied the game, it just seemed inevitable they would pull out the victory.

"That was a gritty third period for us," said Quinn. "I think the opposition felt pretty comfortable at 3-1 and they were looking to hold on to that and sometimes when momentum changes, you have problems stopping it. The momentum switched to us and we were getting some real good shifts and even though we didn't score until half way through the period, the play had shifted by then."

A large reason for that shift was Winkler native Dustin Penner, who the Blues had trouble containing deep in their own end. With a four-point effort, Penner is one point shy of equaling his total from all of last year.

He has caught the attention of Hockey Canada scouts for the upcoming Olympics and has developed a strong chemistry with Gagner and Brule on the Oilers top line.

"We're going to try to keep him playing like that," said Quinn. "He's been our best guy from the start of the season and he keeps hungry for it, which is what good athletes do, keep hungry for that success. We hope he keeps that up.

"That line was very good for us, especially in the third. They were checking that line and they had their best defensive people out there against them most of the night, so there wasn't a lot of room for them. But they were very good for us. Brue's goal at the end of the second was a big goal for us and we stepped right in there and built off of that. That line was exceptional."

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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