Edmonton Oilers Matt Greene scores his first NHL career goal against Minnesota Wild goaltender Manny Fernandez during the third period. (CP PHOTO/Jason Scott)
But the Edmonton Oilers were able to cue the comeback on Thursday night to defeat the Wild 3-1 and to solidify their spot atop the NHL's Northwest Division. After Matt Greene scored his first ever NHL goal to pull the Oilers even, Jarret Stoll and Shawn Horcoff scored 14 seconds apart late in the third period to give the Oilers the key divisional win.
"Any win against a team in our division is obviously a big one," said Stoll. "It is so tight. We got in and got the pucks. We were physical and their defence was looking over their shoulders at times. We had a lot of guys flying out there and though it didn't show on the scoreboard for some of them they were doing a lot out there."
With just 4:38 remaining in regulation, Stoll picked up a blocked Marc-Andre Bergeron shot in the slot and out-fought Keith Carney for the puck before picking the upper right hand corner on Wild starter Manny Fernandez to give the Oilers a 2-1 lead.
Edmonton took the game outright 14 seconds later as Horcoff stole the puck in the Minnesota zone and undressed Petteri Nummelin before putting a backhand past Fernandez to give the Oilers the 3-1 win.
Despite having trouble getting anything past Fernandez in the first 40 minutes, Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish felt his team was playing well enough to deserve better and was glad to see them reap a reward.
"I didn't want to be standing out here at the end of the game saying how happy I was with the game even though we lost it," he said. "We capitalized and took advantage of the opportunities that we had. We had a real good start to the third and took the momentum of the game and it just carried through. I don't imagine they have lost too many games that they lead after the second."
Minnesota head coach Jacques Lemaire agreed that the game was still very much in the balance entering the third.
"It was just a matter of time before that game went to one side or the other," he said. "We played good for a good part of the game but at the right time when we needed a little bit more intensity we didn't get it. Then when they scored their first goal you could see the momentum change. They started to come harder and we weren't as good with the puck, making the right decision or the right play."
With the win, the Oilers retained top spot in the Northwest over the Wild. Edmonton is now 17-12-2 on the year with the Wild closely trailing at 16-13-2.
The Wild opened the scoring, connecting on their first shot of the game. Todd White looked like he might pass, but snuck a wrist shot stick-side on Edmonton starter Dwayne Roloson to put the Wild up 1-0 just under four minutes in.
Both goalies stood their ground despite some good opportunities to keep the score intact until the third when Edmonton would finally pull even with three and a half minutes played when defenceman Greene scored his first ever NHL goal in his 58th game. Greene put a gorgeous deke on Fernandez and scored on a backhand to set up the Oilers' comeback.
"It's good to finally get it over with and to have that done," said Greene who was glad it didn't go to a shootout even if he the crowd might have wanted him out there for it after his pretty goal.
"I think I'm number 20 on the shootout list. I don't even get to play in overtime let alone a shootout."
The Oilers return to the ice on Friday with a quick trip to Colorado. Minnesota wraps up a three game western road swing in Vancouver on Saturday.
Notes Thursday's match was just the first of eight meetings between the Oilers and Wild this year. Last season Minnesota was a commanding 6-2 in the series and won all four games in Edmonton. . . . Assistant captain Wes Walz returned to the Wild lineup for the first time after missing the last 10 games with a hip injury. . . . Even on separate teams the goaltender debate between Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez continues. Going into the match with a 2.40 goals-against average and .920 save percentage, Roloson had statistically outperformed his former teammate and current Wild starter Fernandez to this point in the season. Fernandez has a 2.81 GAA and .907 save percentage.