Edmonton Oilers\' Ales Hemsky flies over Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding during the first period. (CP PHOTO/John Ulan)
Third-string goaltender Josh Harding stopped 30 shots for the shutout, and his first win of the season, as the Minnesota Wild won their fourth game in their last five outings by blasting the Oilers 5-0. Pavol Demitra and Marian Gaborik each had two goals and an assist for Minnesota, while Branko Radivojevic also scored for the Wild.
It was the second straight listless performance from the Oilers (30-29-6) since essentially giving up the playoff pursuit following the deadline day trade of Smyth.
Minnesota (36-23-6) moved a point ahead of Calgary for seventh place in the Western Conference and 12 points ahead of the Oilers. Minnesota head coach Jacques Lemaire is glad to have quite a bit more distance between the two teams than they did just five days previous.
"I thought the game we won at home against the Oilers on Sunday was even bigger than this one," he said. "They are all big but if they had won that one it would have put them five points back of us. What is great about this one is it gives us some breathing room now."
Lemaire credited Harding for the poise he has shown the last two games with the Wild missing their regular goaltending tandem.
"The chances that they got, he was just great on them," he said. "They had the opportunities to score goals and get going but he was there to make the big saves. It's a good thing because we don't have nobody else."
Harding, a native of Regina, is thrilled he has been able to make an impact during this opportunity.
"It's an unbelievable feeling right now," he said. "When I get home tonight it will hit a lot harder. I'm just enjoying the moment right now."
The Oilers have now lost three in a row and look a far cry from the squad that made it all the way to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals last season. Edmonton head coach Craig MacTavish says it is definitely a struggle at the moment.
"There is just nothing right with our game right now," he said. "We have to find a way to be better than that. The starting point is to eliminate the five star bonehead blunders.
"There has been a sense of futility the last two nights. It's frustrating to be in the situation we are in right now. It is going to be hard to battle through it mentally."
Oilers forward Raffi Torres says the only thing they can do at the moment is go out there and play the game.
"We can't be hiding out there," he said. "We can't crawl under the ice. We have to keep pitching away at it."
Minnesota started the scoring 11:23 into the first period when Martin Skoula sent Demitra in all alone. Demitra went to the backhand and beat Oilers starter Dwayne Roloson glove-side for his 20th of the season.
The Wild went ahead 2-0 on a two-man advantage with just under four minutes remaining in the first. Gaborik and Demitra worked the give and go down deep with several passes before Gaborik scored his 21st past a helpless Roloson.
Minnesota continued to put the Oilers on their heels early in the second as Edmonton defenceman Matt Greene wiped out, allowing a Wild two-on-one. Roloson got a piece of Mark Parrish's original shot but the puck landed on the goal-line, where Radivojevic was able to tap it in to put his team ahead 3-0.
Jussi Markkanen replaced Roloson in the Oiler net to start the third. But the Wild were able to get a couple past him as well. Gaborik picked off a puck at the Oiler blue-line and scored his second of the night on the breakaway.
Demitra added his second goal of the evening on the power play with under four minutes to go to give the Wild the clear 5-0 victory.
Harding faced an Oilers two-man advantage for the final 1:50 to preserve his shutout.
The Oilers play the third game of a four game homestand on Saturday against Calgary. The Wild complete a three-game western road swing in Vancouver on Sunday.
Notes: Harding was making his first start of the season for the Wild. Minnesota's third stringer came in during the second period of Wednesday's game against Calgary to replace Niklas Backstrom, who left the game with a lower body injury. Backstrom had been on a tear for the Wild since replacing usual starter Manny Fernandez, out with a knee injury. . . . Thursday marked the Minnesota debut of newly acquired forward Dominic Moore, a scratch against Calgary. Moore had six goals and 15 points in 59 games for the Penguins this season and led Pittsburgh in face-off wins. . . . Defenceman Ladislav Smid and forward Petr Nedved both returned from injuries to suit up for the Oilers. But as they came back another player went out as Marty Reasoner left the game with an injury to his right shoulder after a first period hit from Derek Boogaard.