EDMONTON — There are nights when you’re not clicking on all cylinders. Then, there are nights when the car’s up on blocks, the engine is taken apart and parts are strewn across the garage.
When you’re having one of the latter nights, and then watch a puck rattle off both of your defencemen and into you net for the apparent game-winner, well, then you’ve got no chance, right?
There’s absolutely no rescuing any point on one of those nights, correct?
“We had nothin’” said head coach Ken Hitchcock, who played the hell out of his best players, got a goal with eight seconds left in regulation and watched his Edmonton Oilers beat Florida 4-3 in a shootout Thursday.
“These games can really help you going forward as a team,” Hitchcock said, “because it’s damned impressive, what they did.”
The win opened up a crucial homestand leading into the All-Star break for Edmonton, with the scuffling Oilers hovering just below the wild-card spot. Either they make hay in this next stretch of six home games sandwiched around a game in Vancouver, or you can take them behind the barn and put the 2018-19 season to rest.
“That was a huge win for us,” said Cam Talbot, who watched his counterpart James Reimer face just 18 shots on net during regulation. “It was definitely not the prettiest, but any time you can grind out a win like that in the way we were able to do it, we persevered after their third goal where we had another unfortunate bounce against us.
“We could have folded, but we went down and battled back and found a way in the shootout.”
And the coach? Don’t worry about him.
No one can squeeze more juice out of a lemon like this one than Hitchcock, who gave the media a dose of Friday morning’s dressing room speech on the post-game podium.
“We were exhausted,” he began, his team fresh off a four-game roadie in California. “Everybody knew, halfway through the first period, we had nothing. They just helped each other through. They stayed vocal on the bench. Any good thing that happened, guys were cheerleading each other, trying to help.
“It’s a hell of a sign for having absolutely zero in the tank. To come up with two points is, for me, really, really impressive.”
Connor McDavid carried his team once again, notching his fifth two-goal game this season, adding an assist and scoring the definitive goal in the shootout. To be honest, we’ve seen him more dominant, but we used to say the same of Wayne Gretzky when he’d have a mortal night yet walk away with three points.
Leon Draisaitl (two assists) helped forge the game-tying goal with eight seconds to play, after the Panthers broke open a 2-2 game with a shot that caromed off of both Oilers defencemen and past Talbot at 14:02 of the third period.
Darnell Nurse added a goal and an assist, playing an astonishing 31:49.
“We’re leanin’ on guys heavy,” admitted Hitchcock, who does so because he simply has too many passengers these days. “Leon played (28:34), Connor played (27:34). We’re leanin’ on guys hard. We’ve got to make sure they get rest and days off — the practices ‘til the break are irrelevant. We’re leanin’ heavy on our top guys.
“We could use a few more participants,” he admitted, “but we’ve got a lot of guys who worked real hard tonight with nothing in their (tanks).”
This is a critical time for Edmonton, which entered the game having won just two of the past 10 games. They can’t afford to let the wild-card spot get any further away, and with a homestand that includes Florida, Arizona, Carolina and Detroit — with a road game in Vancouver — the opportunity to get on a roll has arrived.
Not that the Oilers can look down their noses at any other teams, but either you beat the Detroits and Floridas, or you miss the playoffs alongside them. Take your choice.
“Things haven’t been going great for us, so this is a big game,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who opened the shootout with a goal. “It was the first game in a homestand and to be able to come back late in the game after a tough bounce against, we could have sagged and rolled over and died. But we kept pushing and fighting and there was no let-up in our game.”
Sometimes you play great and lose. Sometimes you play, er, less than great and you win. When that happens there’s only one thing to do — walk away with a smile, and rest up for the next one.
“You can take the positives,” McDavid said. “We found a way to win a game where maybe we didn’t deserve it. But we stuck with it.
“It was gritty.”