EDMONTON - The Edmonton Oilers went from a string of shootouts to shooting themselves in the feet.
Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta scored third-period goals just 35 seconds apart as the New Jersey Devils came from behind to defeat the Oilers 3-1 on Friday night, the first time in their last five games that Edmonton didn't go to a shootout.
John Madden added an empty-netter for the Devils, who visited the Oilers for the first time since Dec. 30, 2001. The Devils are 5-0-0 with a tie in their last six trips to Edmonton, where they last lost on Oct. 31, 1995.
Five minutes into the third, Gionta fed a pass through the top of the crease to Elias, who sent his seventh of the season into an open net.
The Devils made it 2-1 just 35 seconds later, when Oilers starter Mathieu Garon made a toe save on Dainus Zubrus but couldn't regain his footing in time to stop Gionta on the rebound.
Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish says his team handed the Devils two points on a platter with their lack of killer instinct with the lead.
"We just gave that game away. We literally gave it away," he said. "It was Christmastime and we wrapped it up and gave it to them. We didn't compete hard enough in the second period to get the game.
"You string a team along and let them stay in the game and bad things happen and that's exactly what we did tonight. I thought we should have put them away in the first."
"It's frustrating," added Oiler forward Fernando Pisani. "We had good control of the game and then a couple mental mistakes leaving guys in front all alone and the next thing you know we are down 2-1. These are games that we need to reel in and establish ourselves from the outset."
It was the first time in six games that the Oilers (16-17-3) failed to earn at least a point. They went to the shootout in their previous four to set an NHL record.
"It was a bitter pill for me to swallow after watching that game," said MacTavish. "We had fought our way back to .500 and had an opportunity to dig ourselves out of a poor start. The couple goals in the third were a lack of execution but our undoing was a lack of will. That's the troubling part.
"We have to get that determination back that we showed in the last five or six games. It was disappointing."
The Devils improved to 19-13-3, maintaining sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division and second in the Eastern Conference.
It also helped the team erase the bitter taste from their last performance, a sub-par 5-0 loss in Vancouver on Tuesday.
"We went five periods without scoring a goal and then things happened pretty quickly there," said the Devils' Brent Sutter, who was making his first visit to Edmonton as an NHL head coach. "We were playing more the way we wanted to play."
"It was a pivotal game," Gionta said. "It turned our trip around and now we have a chance to go home 2-1 on this road trip. Being down for so long in that game, it was huge to get that first one and then be able to chip in to close it out."
The Devils simply converted on their opportunities when it mattered most.
"There is a real fine line between winning and losing," Madden said. "We had some good chances in Vancouver and didn't get any breaks. Tonight we capitalized on some of our chances and they missed on some of theirs."
The Oilers thought they had the game's first goal 11 minutes into the first but it was waved off. Fernando Pisani crashed the net and shovelled the puck in but it was ruled that Devils goalie Martin Brodeur was pushed into the net with the puck.
Edmonton did end up hitting the scoreboard four minutes later when Ales Hemsky drove in hard, forcing Brodeur to make a stick save but leaving an open net for Pitkanen, who was trailing on the play.
The Devils had the bulk of the scoring chances in the scoreless second, outshooting Edmonton 12-2 in the middle frame, but Garon was able to stand his ground.
Both teams return to the ice on Sunday as the Devils close out a three-game road trip in Calgary and the Oilers travel to Chicago.
Notes: With goalie Dwayne Roloson felled by a bout of the flu, the Oilers signed University of Alberta goalie Aaron Sorochan to an NHL amateur try-out agreement. ... The Oilers honoured scout Lorne Davis, who died of cancer on Thursday at 77. Davis, who won a Stanley Cup playing for the Montreal Canadiens in 1953, was the oldest working scout in the NHL. ... Defenceman Dick Tarnstrom returned to the Edmonton lineup after being out since Nov. 24 with a concussion. Oilers forward Ethan Moreau (foot) skated with the team and should be ready to go after the holiday break. Moreau has yet to play this season and only made it into seven games last season.