ST. PAUL, Minn. - With his best player about to take his turn in the shootout and the game on the line, Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire was asked how sure he was that Mikko Koivu would come through.
"I wasn't sure at all," Lemaire said with a smile. "I was looking for the next guy."
At that point, Lemaire thought the game might go on forever. That's just the way it is in a game against two teams that are so evenly matched.
Koivu's shootout goal lifted the Wild to a testy 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday. He skated in on Dwayne Roloson's right side and slipped the puck through the five-hole after teammates Antti Miettinen, Marek Zidlicky and Brent Burns all failed to score.
Niklas Backstrom made 28 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped all four shots he faced in the shootout to help the Wild to their ninth straight victory over the Oilers at Xcel Energy Center.
Miettinen and Eric Belanger scored in regulation for the Wild, who started the day tied with Edmonton for the last playoff spot in the West.
"The teams are so equal, especially in our conference," Lemaire said. "We're all there. So when we play each other, it's going to be intense, close games."
Roloson made 37 saves in regulation for the Oilers, including one on a breakaway from Belanger with 51 seconds left in overtime, to rebound from a miserable performance against Detroit on Saturday.
But Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson, Ales Hemsky and Tom Gilbert all were stuffed in the shootout before Koivu's game-winner.
Sheldon Souray and Gagner scored for the Oilers, who were blitzed 8-3 in Detroit. Roloson didn't make it to the second period, allowing five goals on 16 shots - three in the first 5:44 - to the high-flying Red Wings.
"We showed some good resolve," Oilers left wing Ethan Moreau said. "It comes down to a shootout. Pretty happy with the way we responded to a bad loss, and we competed. We were physical. They competed hard too."
The Oilers were much more determined at the start of this one, forcing the issue in the first period and inducing four penalties from the Wild.
When Cal Clutterbuck was whistled for tripping with James Sheppard already in the box on a hooking call, Oilers coach Craig MacTavish used his timeout in the first period.
The move paid off 18 seconds later when Souray blasted a shot from the point that beat Backstrom high on the glove side for a 1-0 lead.
"In the Western Conference now, every team is in it," MacTavish said. "We're competitive and we battle hard. We've just been short against the best teams in the league."
Miettinen's short-handed goal 4:20 into the third period gave Minnesota a 2-1 lead, but Edmonton tied it when Nilsson rushed in and Backstrom kicked the puck into the slot. Gagner was there to pounce on it for his first goal since Jan. 11.
It was a crucial victory for the Wild, who can't afford many more home losses to Western Conference foes like the one to Nashville on Friday night. Eight teams started the day with between 53 and 57 points in the race for the final three playoff spots.
Even last-place St. Louis was only five points behind the Wild and Oilers, who meet three more times this season, for that final spot.
"We're fighting for the same playoff spot as (the Oilers) are, so every game is going huge against them," Backstrom said. "We need every point we can get, so it was a good game for us to get two points."
Notes: Wild RW Owen Nolan became the 26th active player to play in 1,100 career games. ... Miettinen's goal was his first career shorty and his 34th point on the season, which ties a career high. ... Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard hasn't scored a goal since 2005-06, but he tipped in a loose puck long after the whistle blew midway through the second period as Roloson was looking the other way. Edmonton RW Zack Stortini took exception to it and did plenty of jawing with Boogaard after the play. ... Edmonton was without C Shawn Horcoff (lower body).
Nick Watney rallies from five behind to win Buick Invitational
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SAN DIEGO - Nick Watney appeared to be along for the ride Sunday until making two birdies over the final three holes to take advantage of a late collapse by John Rollins and win the Buick Invitational.
Watney knocked in a 40-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the par-3 16th, then completed his five-shot rally with a two-putt birdie on the 18th hole to close with a 4-under 68 for his second career victory, earning a trip to the Masters.
Rollins let this one get away.
He had a three-shot lead with five holes to play until making a bogey with a poor chip on the 14th, another bogey from a plugged lie in the bunker on the 16th, and failing to hit the green on the par-5 18th, leading to a par.
He closed with a 74.