Phoenix Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson skates past as the Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93), Justin Schultz (19), Ales Hemsky (83) and Ryan Smyth (94) celebrate a goal during third period NHL hockey in Edmonton on February 23, 2013. For the Edmonton Oilers, there's no place like home. The Oilers will play 14 of their final 22 games at Rexall Place and have the chance to start rolling up some home wins in order to make a playoff push. Edmonton currently stands three points back of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.
EDMONTON - The Edmonton Oilers returned home from their nine-game, 17-day road trip buoyed by recent successes, relieved they're still in the playoff hunt and confident better days lie ahead.
The Oilers won their final two games of the trip—in Chicago and Colorado—to salvage what could have been a disastrous journey. After earning three of a possible four points in the first two games, the Oilers lost five straight and back-to-back shutout losses in Detroit and Nashville left them on the verge of losing their season.
"We looked defeated, the energy level was low, there was no battle," captain Shawn Horcoff said Thursday of the team's position after their 6-0 loss in Nashville on March 8.
So Horcoff, who returned to play two days later after missing 17 games with a hand injury, called a team meeting that cleared the air and may have saved the season.
"It was the way we were playing, just the steady decline in our play and our mental situation," Horcoff said of the reason to calling the team together before their 6-5 win in Chicago. "You don't call those meetings all the time…but at that time it was a pivotal point in our season. We needed to turn things around.”
The back-to-back road victories left Edmonton three points out of a playoff spot in the jammed-up Western Conference heading into Friday's home against Detroit, the first of four Edmonton games at Rexall Place.
"We're alive again," said Horcoff, who scored in both wins. "Going into Chicago we were as down and out as we have been in a long time. To respond with two wins, coming home three points out of the playoffs…leaves us with a lot of confidence."
General manager Steve Tambellini admitted Thursday he was concerned how the club would respond after their humbling losses in Detroit and Nashville, but he liked the way Horcoff returned and the leadership he showed.
"I liked the fact he came back and showed terrific veteran leadership and our guys responded," he said. "That desperation card can be played with this hockey club and that's what we are, a desperate club."
Tambellini said he's encouraged that after 17 days on the road there's a focused energy back in the dressing room.
"The positive energy inside this dressing room is very strong right now," he said.
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who earned his first shutout to the season in Colorado, said the key now is for the Oilers to play the way they did to earn those two key wins.
"We have to look at that trip and understand why we won the games we won and why we lost the game we lost," he said. "I don't think it's a secret, it was pretty obvious. We cleaned up our own end, we started playing harder in our end, getting pucks out, which turned into possession for us and with the guys in this room if we have possession it should be a good thing on the scoreboard. We have to, from now on, consistently play like that."
Horcoff agreed the Oilers learned the type of system they need to play and how they have to play it–an uptempo style with a high intensity level, getting pucks into the offensive zone and playing strong defensively.
The Oilers now play 14 of their remaining 22 games at home, where they are 4-4-2, a record head coach Ralph Krueger deems "unacceptable."
Horcoff says the Oilers have to take advantage of those home games and build off the success of their two recent wins.
"Hopefully, after those two games we can go on a bit of run. We need to," said Horcoff. "Time is running out, but we are at a point where if we can build some momentum here over the next five, six games can get ourselves in the playoffs.
"Our goal going into the season was to be playing meaningful games with a month left and we got ourselves in a position where we could be doing that."