NEWARK — You can’t win ‘em all.
But four in a row is clearly doable.
The Edmonton Oilers extended their perfect record in gritty and dramatic fashion Thursday, getting up off the canvas three times to post a 4-3 victory over the stubborn New Jersey Devils. Connor McDavid scored with 1:07 left in the third period and Leon Draisaitl clinched it in the shootout.
“I didn’t think we played near as well as we played the other night, we looked a little sluggish out there,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “But I like the way we hung around and battled. Special teams ended up being the difference in the game. Our PK was pretty good (two-for-two) and our PP got us a couple of goals.
“They can’t all be masterpieces, so we’ll take the win and move on.”
The Oilers were actually favoured in this one against an 0-2-1 Devils team that was playing the second of back-to-back games, but New Jersey’s desperation looked like it was going to outweigh Edmonton’s momentum.
The Devils took the lead three times, 1-0 in the first, 2-1 in the second and 3-2 in third, but they couldn’t keep Edmonton down.
The Oilers, showing characteristics of the team that made the playoffs two seasons ago, fought back all three times, three minutes after it was 1-0, five minutes after it was 2-1 and three minutes after it was 3-2.
“We’re a resilient group,” said Draisaitl, the only player to score in the shootout. “We said that before the season, we’re not going to stop until it’s over. I’m happy to be part of this group, I think we’re building our game in the right direction.
“We couldn’t really find our A game for the whole night, but it’s great to see that we can find different ways to win games.”
Like when you’re outshot 31-22 and trail three times on the road.
“You have to find ways to win in this league, that’s the way it is,” said Tippett. “That’s what our players were talking about in the second period — we don’t feel like we have our A game but that’s no excuse for not winning.”
The Oilers vowed to get off to a good start this year, but 4-0 might be better then even they were hoping for. Or maybe not.
“There’s a culture change within the room where all anyone thinks about is winning, that’s all that really matters,” said defenceman Darnell Nurse. “It’s that belief within your structure and belief within your team that you can get it done. That’s what we have right now. That belief needs to continue because we’ve shown through four games that we can win any type of way.
“It’s fun to be a part of. It’s only four games, we have a long way to go, but it’s been a promising start.”
THE NEAL THING
The roll continues for former Calgary Flame (lol) James Neal, whose second-period power-play marker gives him seven goals in the last three games, five of them on the power play. The hand-eye co-ordination needed on the deflection — getting his stick on a bullet from Nugent-Hopkins, who let it go about from 10 feet away — was ridiculous.
“That’s why we got him,” said Draisaitl. “He’s a goal scorer.”
The Oilers coaching staff thought goaltender Mikko Koskinen might have been interfered with on New Jersey’s third goal late in the final period, but the operative word there is “might.” With only 4:25 left they didn’t want to risk the delay of game penalty if they were wrong. So they decided to let it go and give their guys a chance to get it back.
“It’s hard when it’s not quite 50-50 and if you challenge you take a chance that you get the goal called back if it’s not you get a two-minute penalty and now there’s under five minutes with a two-minute penalty. I decided not to and trust our players to find a way to get it back.”
It was an outstanding play by defenceman Ethan Bear en route to the first Edmonton goal. With New Jersey attempting to set up a cycle in the Oilers end, Bear stripped a Devil of the puck behind the net, made a quick deft pass to McDavid, who head-manned it to Zack Kassian. who passed it back to Nurse who slid it across to Draisail for the goal. All five Oilers touched the puck on the nicest goal of the year.
Mikko Koskinen had fans fearing the worst when he gave up a goal, glove-side high, six minutes into the first period, but he had a strong night in the Edmonton net, making some key saves early on the keep it from getting away from them and then again late in the third and in overtime when the Devils were pressing hard.
“He was really strong, he made some really big saves for us,” said defenceman Matt Benning. “He was really good.”
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