WINNIPEG – Road play has tormented the Edmonton Oilers all season, while the Winnipeg Jets have built a formidable home presence inside the MTS Centre.
But back in Winnipeg, the Oilers delivered some unpleasant flashbacks to long-time Manitoba hockey fans accustomed to seeing the Gretzky-era Oilers torment their local hockey club during the 1980s. The Oilers won for only the ninth time this season on the road, rallying with four goals in the third period en route to a 5-3 win Monday night.
The loss ended the Jets' 4-0-2 run that had allowed them to elbow their way into the thick of the Eastern Conference race. The Jets (30-27-8) remain eighth in the Eastern Conference at 68 points, but cede four games in hand to the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers, who are two points ahead. The Washington Capitals are one point behind Winnipeg and have three games in hand on the Jets.
"You can tell that this was an important two points [to Winnipeg]," Edmonton's Taylor Hall said. "The atmosphere in this building was playoff-like. You could tell that was a playoff atmosphere, and they were trying to play a playoff-type game, because they really needed those two points."
"That was a strong period by us," Hall continued. "We took over, and that's what we have to do when we're down."
The third period capped a difficult evening for the Jets, but the home club looked out of sync for much of the contest.
"We looked like a tired team," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "We looked like an emotionally drained team, and we looked like that from start to end."
"I wouldn't say that it was the worst loss of the season," Noel added.
Some of his players disagreed.
"Tonight was the worst loss of the year," Kyle Wellwood said. "Guys are pretty devastated."
The Oilers (25-31-6) rode Devan Dubnyk's solid net performance in the first half of the contest before using four third-period goals to wrestle away Winnipeg's lead. Ryan Whitney took away Winnipeg's first lead in the second period before Ryan Jones, Lennart Petrell and Hall rocked the Jets for goals in the opening 10:36 of the third period. Ryan Smyth picked up his 800th NHL point in assisting on a late Jordan Eberle goal that sent the Winnipeg crowd to the exits.
Edmonton used two third-period goals spaced 35 seconds apart in the opening 2:29 to spark its comeback before going on to beat the Jets behind 27 saves from Dubnyk.
"I liked the way we handled the game in general," Oilers coach Tom Renney said.
Dubnyk, who shut out the Philadelphia Flyers last Thursday night at Rexall Place, rebounded from this past Saturday's difficult home loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. Dubnyk relished the MTS Centre atmosphere.
"It was loud," Dubnyk said. "It was really loud. It's a fun atmosphere to be a part of."
Winnipeg's Ondrej Pavelec made only 20 stops and endured a shaky night for the Jets, who received goals from Wellwood, Alexander Burmistrov and Nik Antropov. Dustin Byfuglien's two assists extended his point streak to seven games.
"We didn't play great, I think, from the goalie on out," Noel said. "It was an average game."
Both clubs had endured pre-game shake-ups to their rosters and saw defencemen sent packing during the NHL trade deadline's final hours. The Jets shipped out pending unrestricted free-agent blueliner Johnny Oduya, sending him to the Chicago Blackhawks for a pair of 2013 draft picks.
Edmonton swapped Tom Gilbert for Minnesota's Nick Schultz. The Jets also added Grant Clitsome via the NHL waiver wire from Columbus. Neither Clitsome nor Schultz arrived in time for the contest. Winnipeg's blue line also went without the injured Zach Bogosian for the seventh consecutive game.
The clubs played 35 minutes of scoreless hockey before combing for three goals in the second period's final 4:15 that sent the teams into the second intermission with Winnipeg owning a 2-1 lead.
But the Oilers' power play, which began the night fourth in the League, went to work after Winnipeg's Blake Wheeler went off for high-sticking in the third period’s opening minute. First, Jones stuffed a loose puck under Pavelec during the Edmonton power play to tie that game at 2-2.
Then Edmonton took the lead when Petrell ripped a puck away from Jets defenseman Randy Jones at the Winnipeg left point, raced down the ice and fired a low shot through Pavelec's pads 35 seconds after the Jones goal.
Renney enjoyed seeing a strong performance from Jones and Petrell, who also chipped in an assist. Jones had been a healthy scratch for Edmonton’s previous three games before drawing back into the Oilers' lineup against the Jets.
"Everybody is important to us," Renney said, "whether you're a two-minute guy or a 22-minute guy. It takes 20 guys."
Hall sealed the win for the Oilers when he dashed into the right circle before pumping a shot through heavy traffic that fooled Pavelec with 10:36 remaining.
"I just think our start of the third period, we came out and didn't take no for an answer," Hall said. "These are games that we have to learn how to win. Not the 6-2 games or the 10-2 games that come easy to us. We have to learn to win the tight games. When we're down in the third period, we have to outplay the team the best we can."
Dubnyk held the Oilers in the contest early. He stuffed Wellwood's first-period attempt at the edge of his crease. Then in the second period, Evander Kane's one-timer into a seemingly empty net instead met Dubnyk's left pad just past the eight-minute mark.
The Jets needed to go on the power to finally solve Dubnyk. After Hall went off for hooking, Wellwood positioned himself to the right of Dubnyk and converted Antropov's cross-slot pass with 16 seconds remaining on the power play for a 1-0 lead.
But Hall redeemed himself only two-and-a-half minutes later when he worked a puck out from the left boards back to the high point, where Whitney's long shot eluded Pavelec.
But just slightly more than a minute later, Byfuglien laid a heavy hit on Jeff Petry just inside the Edmonton blue line, stripped the young defenseman of the puck and skated to the bottom of the right circle before feeding Burmistrov for a one-timer in close that restored the Winnipeg lead.
Antropov and Eberle exchanged late goals, but Antropov saw nothing positive to take from the game.
"What positives?" Antropov asked reporters. "Good question. I don't see any positives from this game."