EDMONTON - If the Chicago Blackhawks left Edmonton in a huff last time because the Oilers were trying for 10, imagine how they felt on Thursday, when ONE GUY almost did it.
Of course, it’s tough for any team to keep pace with one of the most astonishing games the NHL has ever seen, so maybe they shouldn’t feel so bad about losing 8-4 to a 22-year-old centre.
Making their first visit to Edmonton since they were trounced 9-2 here in November, the Blackhawks ran into a determined little piece of history named Sam Gagner, who almost single-handedly dismantled the Hawks with four goals and four assists to join Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey as the only other Oilers to register eight-point nights.
“It’s a pretty surreal feeling,” grinned Gagner, who came within two points of Darryl Sittler’s seemingly unbreakable all-time record. “A couple of guys came up to me and said are you going after Sittler’s record? Everybody on the bench was telling me to stay out there for the last five minutes. I didn’t have the legs in me to stay out there that long.
“I didn’t even know anything about Gretzky or Coffey, but guys just kept telling me to go. I was pretty gassed but I felt like I could have played forever tonight. It’s a pretty good feeling; I’m going to cherish it.”
Gagner actually had eight points in 40 minutes, catching fire after Chicago took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
“i didn’t think I had that good of a first period,” said the sometimes forgotten forward, who laid the groundwork for his rampage with a goal and two assists in the middle frame. “And after that it seemed like everything I touched was going in. I was like, ‘It’s my night, I just have to keep shooting.’ ”
The avalanche reached historical proportions in the third period. A goal at 1:54, an assist at 3:43, a goal at 6:25, a goal at 14:31 and an assist at 16:15.
“It just happened so quickly, it was like we scored five shifts in a row,” said linemate Jordan Eberle, who had a goal and three pretty nice helpers in the cause. “He deserves every credit that he got tonight.”
Gagner’s battled all season, started out on the injured list with a bad ankle, then limping through 19 games without a goal while being shuffled from line to line and position to position, seemingly a forgotten man in the Oilers rebuilding effort. Never complained, just kept working harder.
“He’s been playing great hockey,” said Eberle. “For him to explode on a night like this is great to see, especially a great guy like him. He works hard, he trains hard, to see a guy rewarded like that is awesome.”
So by the end of the game, when chants of “Gagner! Gagner!” were ringing from the rafters, it was pretty special moment for everyone.
“The support of our fans here is unbelievable,” said Gagner “We haven’t had the best few years and they’ve stuck by us. We still sell out. To get that kind of ovation from people who know the game was an incredible feeling.”
Gagner’s incredible evening extended Edmonton’s point streak to four games, three wins and an overtime loss, for their best stretch of hockey since their stunning start in October.
It also extended their curious mastery over the Hawks, improving to 3-1 against them this season and winning five of their last eight meetings. They’ve outscored them 17-6 in the last two games here.
“When we get into a game like that, kind of free-wheeling, there’s a lot of chances,” said Taylor Hall, who had quiet four-point night, if that’s possible. “It’s not really a game that we like to pride ourselves on, but we can run and gun with the best of them and those games are fun. If I had my choice I’d play a 7-6 game rather than 2-1 game for sure. It brings out offence, brings out creativity, and most of us, especially Sam, showed that.”
NO NUGE IS BAD NUGE: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will have to wait to begin his comeback. He was hoping for Thursday against the Blackhawks, but he stayed out late after the morning skate and wasn’t in the lineup.
“Day to day is even stretching it, he’s really close,” said head coach Tom Renney. “I’d be surprised if he wasn’t ready for Saturday (against the Wings).”
He could probably go right now, but waiting an extra two days never hurts.
“I would always be prudent with a young player,” said Renney. “In most cases this is the first time they’ve been hurt at the NHL level, and coming back into the best league in the world is not an easy thing to do.
“There’s a part of me that wants to be 100% sure because the future of this organization is in the hands of these young people.”
LATE HITS: D Theo Peckham was a late scratch Thursday against Chicago. He was feeling the effects of a puck in the face, so Cam Barker drew in a game early.