EDMONTON - As sorry as their season has been, at least the Edmonton Oilers left Rexall Place on a high note.
Ryan Whitney scored 3:50 into overtime as the Oilers bounced back from an early 3-0 deficit to defeat the Colorado Avalanche 5-4 in their final home game of the season on Wednesday. Whitney pinched in from the point to receive a perfect pass from Dustin Penner and score the game winner past Avalanche goaltender Peter Budaj.
Oilers head coach Pat Quinn said a win didn't look very likely when his team got off to a dismal start.
"It didn't look very bright early on, five shots and three goals," he said "And it wasn't the goaltender's fault on any one of them. All four goals were on the doorstep and not what you want to have happen. It's happened to us a lot all season long and it has cost us some games. But our guys battled in a lot of other areas and came back."
Penner led the team with a goal and two assists and Shawn Horcoff, Mike Comrie and Andrew Cogliano also scored for the Oilers (26-46-8), who won nine of their final 12 games on home ice.
"This was the perfect way to finish off the homestand," said Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert. "It's something that we've been thinking a lot about, trying to play well at home."
The Oilers, who will finish last in the NHL, hope to get a point out of one of their final two road games to avoid equalling their worst season in franchise history, 60 points in 1992-93.
Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, Marek Svatos and Matt Hendricks responded for the Avalanche (43-29-8) who have lost five of their last seven and had a two-game winning streak snapped, but had little to play for having secured a playoff spot the night previous with a win in Vancouver.
"You have to find a way to put a team away when you are up 3-0," said Avalanche winger Cody McLeod, who had two assists on the night. "But we let them back in the game and it came back to haunt us."
McLeod admitted that sitting out forwards Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk and TJ Galiardi, defenceman Scott Hannan and Adam Foote and goalie Craig Anderson likely had an impact on the result.
"When you don't have those guys in the lineup you are going to feel the effect," he said. "But we have depth in this room and there is no way the guys in this room tonight couldn't have got it done. We're going to need everyone come playoff time."
While Quinn admitted the Avs didn't ice their best roster, he also says he has been in the same boat but without a choice in the matter.
"I know that they took some of their best players out of the lineup tonight but at the same token we have had some of our best out all year long," he said.
The Avalanche staked themselves to a 2-0 lead before the game was five minutes old.
They started the scoring 4:33 into the opening period when a John-Michael Liles point shot caromed off a body in front and to Duchene at the side of the net, who swept in his 24th of the year.
Colorado went up by two goals just 24 seconds later as Oilers starter Jeff Deslauriers allowed a huge rebound on a toe save and nobody picked up O'Reilly on his way to putting it in.
It was 3-0 just four minutes later as Svatos had another free pass to the net to swat in a nifty behind-the-back pass from Darcy Tucker. The Avs scored on three of their first five shots.
Edmonton got a goal back on the power play with six minutes to play in the first. Gilbert sent a quick pass through the crease to Horcoff on the doorstep, and he snapped it past Budaj.
The Oilers then got back in range with just under two minutes to play as Penner was sent in on a breakaway on a long feed by Gilbert, and he buried his 32nd between Budaj's legs.
Edmonton knotted the game 3-3 six minutes into the second on the power play as Comrie beat Budaj with a wrist shot from the centre of the face-off circle.
The Avs had a chance to regain the advantage with six minutes left in the second, but Brandon Yip fanned on a shot at an open net.
The Oilers took their first lead of the game six minutes into the third as Penner made a beautiful backhand pass from behind the net to Cogliano in front, and he picked the corner to make it 4-3.
The Avalanche tied the game up again with seven minutes left after a puck rattled around in Deslauriers' equipment before being nudged in by Hendricks.
Budaj made a big save in the final couple seconds on Comrie to send the game to extra time.
Colorado returns home for its final pair of games, starting Friday against Chicago. The Oilers play their final two games on the road, beginning on Saturday in Los Angeles.
Notes: It was the final of six meetings between the two teams. Colorado had won three of the previous five, all by shutouts... Oilers forward Sam Gagner has decided to call it a season after missing the last six games with a sore hip... The Oilers are at an NHL-leading, 502 man-games lost - more than double last year's 225... The Avs have enjoyed the best turnaround of any team in the NHL this season, just ahead of Phoenix. Entering the game with the Oilers, the Avs had already gained 24 more points than last year's squad (69 to 93)... By clinching a playoff appearance on Tuesday in Vancouver, Colorado will be heading back to the post-season for the 12th time in 14 seasons since 1995-96. Only already-qualified Detroit (14) and New Jersey (13) have made more trips to the Stanley Cup playoffs during this time... Colorado forward Peter Mueller remains out indefinitely due to a concussion sustained during Sunday's game against the Sharks.