Detroit Red Wings defenceman Jonathan Ericsson (52) celebrates his goal against the Edmonton Oilers with teammates Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen during the third period. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jimmy Jeong
EDMONTON - The Edmonton Oilers had the Detroit Red Wings on the ropes for two and a half periods, but their failure to deliver a knockout punch left them in a precarious position in the tight Western Conference playoff race.
Marian Hossa and Valtteri Filppula scored just 32 seconds apart in the final two minutes of play as the Red Wings beat the Oilers 3-2.
Jonathan Ericsson also scored in the third as the Red Wings surged back to first place overall in the NHL with the last-minute victory.
Denis Grebeshkov and Ales Kotalik replied for the Oilers (35-29-9), who lost their second in a row and missed a chance to gain some ground in the West. The Oilers remained seventh, one point ahead of both Nashville and Anaheim.
"Those are the games that drive you to drink," said Oilers forward Dustin Penner. "It doesn't feel good. I'd say that feels worse than losing 10-2. Especially at this point of the season with the way we have been playing and who we were playing tonight. That one stings."
Added Oiler defender Tom Gilbert: "It's just another heart-breaker. It's tough at this time of the year when you need as many points as possible. It's a tough one to swallow."
Edmonton head coach Craig MacTavish admitted it was tough to take the loss when he felt his team had done so much right in the contest.
"A game like that leaves everybody with a heavy heart," he said. "It's an incredible sense of disappointment. But at the same time we played pretty well and in a lot of ways outstanding. The way we checked and killed penalties. It's disappointing but we'll take some solace in that.
"It's going to be quite the nine-game stretch here down to the end."
Detroit also had something to play for. It was the fifth win in the last six games for the Red Wings (49-16-9), who moved a point ahead of idle San Jose for top spot in the Western Conference.
Detroit head coach Mike Babcock was impressed with the way his team came back from a difficult first period, playing their second night in a row following a 5-3 loss in Calgary on Monday.
""When you play back-to-back your legs aren't the same as they normally are," he said. "It takes you a while to get them back. You've got to fight through that, and not bury yourself early in the game while your legs do come back and I think that's what happened.
"They outshot us in the first, I think they had 13 shots on net and I don't know how much they finished with but not a lot, so we took over from that point."
Edmonton opened the scoring on a power play with 1:11 to go in the first, shortly after a two-man advantage had expired. Ales Hemsky sent a pass back to Grebeshkov at the point, and his knuckler found the top corner past Wings starter Ty Conklin.
Edmonton outshot Detroit 13-9 in the opening frame.
Detroit controlled the bulk of the play in the second period, badly out-shooting Edmonton 17-4, but Roloson stood tall to keep it a one-goal game to that point. His biggest save was a point blank grab on Johan Franzen with five minutes to play and the Wings on a power play.
The Red Wings had another big opportunity to draw even midway through the third as Filppula had a wide open net , but the Oilers were able to get a stick in the way and deflect the puck.
Edmonton couldn't keep the Wings off the scoreboard forever as Detroit scored on its 39th shot of the game with 8:45 to play to knot the game 1-1. Ericsson sent a shot off of Oilers defender Steve Staios and past Roloson for his first goal of the season.
Detroit quickly jumped out to a 3-1 lead with its pair of late goals, the first of which was set up by a nice feed from Franzen.
"I had been trying to shoot all night long and it didn't really work for me," Franzen said. "I heard Hossa coming and he was yelling for the puck. I kind of faked a shot and went back to him in the middle. The goal was really waiting for him." Franzen also earned the first assist less than a minute later on Filppula's insurance marker.
That insurance was needed as Kotalik scored with one minute to play to make it 3-2, but the Wings were able to hang on for the win.
The Oilers return to the road to face Phoenix on Thursday while the Red Wings begin a four-game homestand against the New York Islanders on Friday.
Notes: It was the fourth and final meeting of the season between the two clubs. The Red Wings owned the first three games, outscoring Edmonton by a combined total of 16-6 With Liam Reddox out with a concussion, forward Marc Pouliot drew in on Edmonton's third line Detroit's Andreas Lilja's recovery from a concussion suffered in late February is going slowly and he has still yet to start riding a bike to work on his conditioning. However the Red Wings did get a player back from the injured list as forward Tomas Holmstrom returned from a knee injury.