EDMONTON - Riding the wave of a four-game winning streak, the Edmonton Oilers are discovering a new sense of confidence and a winning mentality.
It's been a long time since the Oilers believed they could be in a playoff race at Christmas, but four home wins ? including victories over the three best NHL road teams, Dallas, Boston and San Jose ? find them just three points back of third-place San Jose in the Pacific Division.
"From Day 1 we always thought we were a good team . . . now we're starting to show it," said forward Jordan Eberle, who has scored in three straight games.
The six-year veteran it was a matter of the players "realizing we are a good team" then getting some wins to instill confidence.
"This is the best team since I've been here. It feels good to get that winning mentality back."
Eberle missed 13 games with a shoulder injury and was the subject of trade rumours until the recent home stand that ends Friday night against the New York Rangers. Now he's feeling more comfortable on the ice and "starting to make the little plays ? and feeling good contributing to the team again."
The Oilers have put together this brief winning streak despite a number of injuries that has basically an entire forward line out of the lineup ? Connor McDavid, Benoit Pouliot and Nail Yakupov.
"That just shows the depth we now have," said Eberle. "There are a lot of guys capable of playing top six positions."
After Friday, the Oilers will be on the road for four of their next five games before the Christmas break. That trip could be crucial to the playoff hopes of the team heading into the new year.
"We have a long way to go and we need to stay on this path," said Anders Nilsson, who has established himself as the team's No. 1 goalie with his recent play.
"We've had a few good games in a row but we can't be satisfied. We need to stay on this path and continue to win more game if we want to be in the playoff race."
Nilsson has been a key element to the recent success. He's played in 10 of the last 11 games, going 6-3-1 with a .937 save percentage and a 1.97 goals-against average. The three goals he gave up to San Jose in Wednesday's 4-3 win was the first time in five games he had allowed more than two. In his last nine starts he has allowed 17 goals.
"A big factor has been Anders," said Eberle. "Even when we maybe don't have our best game he gives us the chance to win."
Nilsson admits he, like the rest of the team, was inconsistent until recently and playing regularly has benefited him personally.
"It's always nice as a goalie to play consistently. It helps your game, you don't have to think as much, you can just go out and play and not overthink situations.
"In the beginning I was inconsistent, have one good game, one bad game and that was something I had to change."