EDMONTON - Jeff Deslauriers' reward for patience and persistence couldn't have come at a better time for the Edmonton Oilers.
As time ran out in Monday's 4-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes, Deslauriers had the game puck in his glove and his first NHL shutout in the record books after a 36-save performance lifted the Oilers to a win they desperately needed.
It came with starter Nikolai Khabibulin sitting out a third straight game with a bad back and with Devan Dubnyk, widely considered the team's goaltender of the future, looking on from the bench as Deslauriers' backup.
"It was great," said Deslauriers. "It was, for sure, something I'll remember all my life. That first shutout, it's fun to be in that club now and be one of those goalies who can say they have a shutout in an NHL game."
It's been seven years since the Oilers selected Deslauriers 31st overall from Chicoutimi of the QMJHL in the 2002 draft.
Since then, the 25-year-old has rattled around in the minors, at times seeming lost when the Oilers didn't even have their own AHL affiliate. He's also been stuck behind Dwayne Roloson, Mathieu Garon and, now, Khabibulin in Edmonton's goal crease pecking order. For Deslauriers, who turned pro in 2004-05, Monday marked just his 16th NHL appearance.
"I've been working hard since then to make my way to the NHL," Deslauriers said. "Now, I get a shot to realize that dream.
"I've been through the minors like most guys during their careers. I went down and up, but that's how hockey is. Sometimes, you don't control stuff. When it goes down, you just have to pick yourself up and keep battling. Just never forget where you want to go."
Deslauriers, 3-2-1 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .916 saves percentage this season and 7-5-1 for his NHL career, made his debut with a 26-save performance in the 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames Oct. 17 last season. It was campaign that proved to be yet another exercise in patience. At one point, Deslauriers went 28 games between appearances, Feb. 7 to April 10, behind Roloson and Garon.
"This is a young man our management feels very positive about," said coach Pat Quinn. "Even though they signed Khabibulin this year, it was mostly because they weren't sure if he was ready in his development, but we're happy with the progress he's made. We feel we've got two real good young guys here."
Khabibulin, inked to a four-year contract after the decision was made not to re-sign Roloson, is clearly Quinn's starter. Then, there's Dubnyk, drafted 14th overall by the Oilers in 2004. He was recalled Nov. 21 from Springfield of the AHL as insurance.
"Deslauriers came in and did a real nice job (Monday)," Quinn said. "He's going to be our guy for a bit, anyway, until we get Khabibulin back. I don't know how long this is going to last, but he's got the games."
Deslauriers, of course, can't worry too much about who is playing in front of him or who is coming up behind him. His job is to stop pucks.
"Some roads are easy and some are tougher," said Deslauriers, who has 154 minor league games on his resume since draft day. "It doesn't matter which road you take, you just have to battle through it.
"The team staff, they make decisions for what's best for the team. Me, I just have to do my job. I know where I want to go. I have objectives. If I want to go there, I have to accomplish it."
Khabibulin's cranky back will determine if Deslauriers makes his fourth straight start against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday. If he's bumped to backup again, so be it. At the very least, he'll take a seat having earned the confidence of his teammates and coaches.
"It's great for him. He's played well all year," said Patrick O'Sullivan. "It's nice to see him get a shutout. I'm sure he feels good about that. It's a special feeling, you can relate it to scoring your first goal or something like that.
"He works hard in practice every day. He's committed to being better. He hasn't played many games the last year and the start the of this year, but when he is in there he gives us a chance to win. We have confidence in him."