EDMONTON - In danger of falling out of playoff contention, the Edmonton Oilers knew they needed to come up big during their five-game homestand.
So far, so good. Robert Nilsson and Kyle Brodziak each had a goal and an assist as the Oilers won their third game in a row, getting to the Phoenix Coyotes early and often in a 5-2 victory on Thursday night. The Oilers (20-21-4) are now 3-0 through the first three of a crucial five-game stretch of home games, and have won four of their last five overall.
"We knew what a crucial point of the season this was," Brodziak said. "Five games at home, especially playing some teams that we are going to be battling with for those last playoff spots. We knew tonight was a huge test and we did a good job in it."
Oilers assistant captain Shawn Horcoff says winning the last three at home gives this team a chance to be back in contention in the short term.
"It's a huge stretch for us," he said. "We have a tough road trip coming up. We knew that if we could get four or five wins out of this period, just how crucial it could be for us. It can put us in a position to go on the road and hopefully be in a playoff position at the all-star break."
Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish says there is a new mood in the room after Monday's 4-0 win over the New York Islanders and now this 5-2 victory, two regulation time victories after a stretch of 16 games where they had been unable to win in 60 minutes.
"We've talked about confidence being the most important thing in the game and getting the goal scoring we've had in the last two games really solidifies the confidence on our team," he said.
"There are a lot of good things happening right now. We've got more confident players on the team right now than we've had at any point so far."
One player needing to gain some confidence in this game was Nilsson, who had been a healthy scratch the previous two games of the homestand.
"It felt good to contribute like that," he said. "We had won two games in a row and I didn't want to come back and be the piece that made us lose. It feels good to help the team keep winning."
Ethan Moreau, Sheldon Souray and Denis Grebeshkov also scored for the Oilers.
Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton had the goals for the Coyotes (22-19-1) who had a five game winning streak come to an end, as well as a string of six consecutive road wins snapped.
"It was a tough start for us," said Coyotes defenceman Ed Jovanovski. "It was one of those starts where we weren't ready to play.
"We had a good third period and hopefully we could build on that one."
"I thought we hung in there and battled," added Phoenix head coach Wayne Gretzky. "We got the penalty shot at 3-0, and if we score there it's 3-1 and somewhat back into the game, and even at that point we don't score.
"We had a four-minute major power play and we didn't score there, and that seemed to be the difference in the hockey game."
The Oilers scored their first two goals just 28 seconds apart, beating Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov on their first two shots.
The first goal came just 1:47 into the first period as Fernando Pisani intercepted a pass at the Edmonton blue-line before dropping the puck back to Moreau, who beat Bryzgalov stick-side with a shot from the right face-off dot.
The Oilers took an early 2-0 lead at the 2:15 mark as Nilsson's shot caromed off of Phoenix defender Zbynek Michalek right to the stick of Brodziak in front, and he scored his sixth of the season.
It looked like Brodziak had his seventh seven minutes later after chipping the puck in during a mad scramble in front of the Coyote net, but the play had been whistled down a millisecond before the puck went in.
Boynton took a pair of penalties during that scramble, leading to Edmonton's third goal as Souray unleashed a bullet from the point to make it 3-0 on Edmonton's fourth shot of the match.
The Coyotes were given a chance to get back into the game with just over a minute remaining when Shane Doan got a short-handed breakaway before being slashed by Souray as he closed in on the Oiler net.
Souray was tossed from the game with a major penalty and Doan was awarded a penalty shot, but he was unable to beat Oiler starter Mathieu Garon, making his fifth consecutive start for Edmonton.
The Oilers extended their lead to 4-0 midway through the second as Nilsson took advantage of a Derek Morris giveaway to create a two-on-none breakaway which Nilsson finished.
Mikael Tellqvist then came in to replace Bryzgalov in the Phoenix net.
The Coyotes finally stopped Garon's bid for a second straight shutout when Peter Mueller made a nifty backhand pass through the crease to a pinching Ballard, who scored into an open net.
Edmonton restored its four-goal advantage less than two minutes later as defenceman Grebeshkov snuck in while the teams played four-on-four to score his first ever NHL goal.
"It felt great to finally get one," Grebeshkov said of scoring in his 71st career game. "It took me like three years. It was about time. Hopefully it's the first of a whole lot more."
Phoenix made the score look a little bit better six and a half minutes into the third as Boynton took a Doan pass from behind the goal line and sent a deceptive wrist-shot past Garon.
The Coyotes travel to Vancouver for a game on Friday night against the Canucks. The Oilers next see action on Sunday as they host Calgary for another chapter in the Battle of Alberta.
Notes: The Oilers were without defenceman Joni Pitkanen, out with the flu. Dick Tarnstrom came in as a replacement. Nilsson also returned to Edmonton's lineup after two games in the press box as a healthy scratch. ... Oilers captain Ethan Moreau has five points in his seven games back after missing 113 consecutive regular season games due to injury.. ... Radim Vrbata is having a career year for the Coyotes. He has 32 points in 40 games. His previous career high is 41 points, set last season while with Chicago. ... Each team will have one representative at the NHL all-star game as Oiler centre Shawn Horcoff and Coyote defenceman Ed Jovanovski were named to the Western Conference team on Thursday.