TAMPA - It was a battle of two of the oldest players in the National Hockey League.
And throughout the contest, the two cagey veterans took turns stealing the show.
Nikolai Khabibulin was good early, while Dwayne Roloson was outstanding late as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 in a shootout.
Linus Omark and Ladislav Smid scored for the Oilers, while Tom Pyatt countered with both for the Lightning in regulation.
Teddy Purcell went on to score the decisive goal in the shootout, which went six rounds.
“I thought we worked hard, I thought we gave the puck away a little more than we should have, and it might have been a different outcome for that,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “But certainly I thought we worked hard and certainly did everything we could to claw our way back into getting a point at least, and with any luck at all, we could have gotten two.”
Khabibulin was making his first start in Tampa since winning the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004.
Roloson was facing the team he backstopped to the Stanley Cup final in 2006.
Both are at the tail ends of strong careers, and both were motivated to pull out the victory, despite the fact neither of their teams will be playing beyond the regular season.
“Roloson seems to find a way in games like that to play well,” said Oilers centre Sam Gagner, who scored for the Oilers in the shootout. “It’s tough not to come out with the two points there. But we have to continue to battle like we did tonight, there was a lot of good things, it’s too bad we couldn’t get the two points.”
The Oilers outshot the Lightning 36-21 in the contest, getting off to a quick start with 15 shots in the first.
However, neither Roloson nor Khabibulin relented as both made a number of good saves in the opening frame.
Roloson turned aside Ales Hemsky on a breakaway, while Khabibulin denied Steve Stamkos on a blast from the slot.
Later in the contest, Roloson robbed Ryan Whitney on a one-timer, then extended his leg far enough to deny Omark on a breakaway.
“You’re never as good as you think you are, and you’re never as bad as you think you are,” said Roloson. “Even though things haven’t gone as well as my numbers say they have, there are a lot of goals that go in circumstancially. For me, the last month and a half I did the stuff that I’ve been doing for the last 20 years, and it’s allowed me to feel better on the ice and feel good in the net during games.”
Taylor Pyatt opened the scoring in the second as a centring pass banked off his leg past Khabibulin.
Later in the period, Linus Omark tied the game as he re-directed a centring pass past Roloson. Before the end of the period, the Lightning took the lead as Pyatt got to a rebound at the side of the net.
In the third, the Oilers pressed for the tying goal, but were continually denied by Roloson, until Smid snuck in from the point and buried a back-door pass from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
“I tried to jump into the play twice in the second period, but they kind of covered me,” said Smid, who now has four goals on the year after being shutout the previous two seasons. “In the third period, it was late in the game and we were trying to score, so I tried it again. They probably thought, it was just Smid and he wasn’t going to do any damage.
“It was a great play by Nuge, and I was wide-open back door. I’m not going to say it was easy because it was me, I can’t even hit an empty-net in practice. I just shot it hard and lucky for me it went in.”
In the shootout, Gagner and Hemsky had scored to counter goals by Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Purcell then scored, lifting a backhand over Khabibulin, while Ryan Smyth hit the post to give Roloson and the Lightning the victory.
“I figured Smytty was just going to keep it in his feet, skate it into the net and run me over,” smiled Roloson. “Obviously Gags (Gagner) we worked on so many different things and so many different moves (in Edmonton) and just trying to stay with him was a battle, let alone get a piece of it or anything else.
“He’s skilled and he’s definitely amazing at the shootouts.”