The Edmonton Oilers know they're not going to the playoffs. That doesn't mean they've stopped competing.
The Oilers improved to 4-0-2 in their last six games when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the fourth round of the shootout to give Edmonton a 2-1 victory against the Florida Panthers on Friday night. After the first seven shooters in the tiebreaker failed to score, Nugent-Hopkins roofed a backhander past Jose Theodore for the win.
"Most of the guys went to his glove side," said Nugent-Hopkins, the first player taken in last June's NHL Draft. "I just went down there and saw the backhand was going to possibly be open, so I just tried it."
Ryan Jones scored in regulation for the Oilers, and Devan Dubnyk made 26 saves before stopping all four Florida shootout attempts to improve to 5-2 in the tiebreaker.
The single point kept the Panthers four points ahead of Washington in the race for first place in the Southeast Division. The Panthers had a chance to get the extra point in the final seconds of overtime when Kris Versteeg came in alone on a breakaway. Dubnyk stopped the initial attempt stopped as the clock wound down. Versteeg poked at the puck under the goaltender's pad -- but it slid down the goal line and hit the post on the far side.
"I saw the play developing and their d-man made a perfect pass, it touched both our guys' sticks and bounced to him," Dubnyk said. "I knew at that point the game was going to be over or it was going into a shootout and I much rather have the game go into a shootout.
"He made a move and after I stopped it, I was kind of stuck, I really couldn’t pull my leg off the post, I just kind of had to sit there and leave my skate there and try to hold it. I obviously got lucky with it going down the line."
Versteeg, who returned March 17 after missing nine games with an injury, hasn't scored a goal since Feb. 12.
"When you're playing that bad, it doesn't really matter. You're not going to get the bounces," Versteeg said. "It was on the line. It almost went in."
Theodore stopped 20 shots and Jason Garrison had the lone goal for the Panthers, whose five-game home winning streak ended. Florida has dropped four straight at home against Edmonton since beating the Oilers on March 8, 2002.
With Washington blowing a 3-0 lead and losing in overtime, the Panthers led an opportunity to gain ground on their closest pursuer get away by failing to beat the NHL's 29th-ranked team -- leaving coach Kevin Dineen less than pleased afterwards.
"There's no shortcuts right now. We're looking to maybe take a little easier path, to try and take the highway instead of the dirt road and that's just not going to happen this time of year," Dineen said. "That's a very disappointing loss for our team."
Jones opened the scoring 1:37 into the second period. Nugent-Hopkins carried the puck into the Florida zone and fed Jordan Eberle at the top of the right circle. Eberle passed to Jones to the left of the crease for the goal.
The Panthers tied it at 4:58 when Tomas Fleischmann passed from the high slot to Garrison in the left circle and Garrison beat Dubnyk on the glove side. With the goal, Garrison broke the Panthers' franchise record for goals in a season by a defenseman with 16. He shared the previous record of 15 with Jay Bouwmeester 2008-09 and 2007-08, and Bryan McCabe 2008-09.
Both teams played cautiously in the third period, reluctant to make a mistake.
"It was one of those games that whoever made the last mistake might have cost them the game," Oilers coach Tom Renney said.
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report
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