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Oilers rally, beat Coyotes in shootout

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Edmonton Oilers are last in the Western Conference and miles from the Stanley Cup Playoff chase. But they are playing teams in the midst of the struggle and enjoying a taste of the energy and desperation that comes with the final days of a postseason chase.

They took a huge point away from the Phoenix Coyotes on Friday and earned two confidence-building points themselves.

Sam Gagner finished off a ferocious forecheck by scoring the tying goal with 40.4 seconds left in regulation, then had the only goal of the four-round shootout and the Oilers dealt the Coyotes' playoff chances a blow with a 3-2 win at Arena.

The Coyotes took their first lead of the game when Kyle Chipchura pushed in a rebound with 7:18 left in regulation. But the Oilers pulled goaltender Ben Scrivens for an extra attacker, and Gagner tied it before scoring the only goal of the tiebreaker to give Edmonton its first victory in five games against the Coyotes this season.

Jordan Eberle pressured Phoenix goalie Thomas Greiss behind the net, controlled the puck and banged a centering attempt off the skate of Phoenix defenseman Zbynek Michalek. Gagner was waiting to punch the puck into an empty net and take the air out of the Coyotes.

"It was a great forecheck by Ebby and a gift for me," Gagner said. "It was nice to help out in the shootout too and get the two points. You have to learn to find ways to win. If you're going to be a good team, you have to find a way to win these games. It's a nice feeling."

Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins felt his team played strong all night and came up with the big play in the clutch.

"We executed (the forecheck) perfectly once that puck was shot in," he said. "Their goalie had nowhere to go with it. We had the walls taken away and pressure on each side and we caught him off-guard."

Greiss took the blame for the play.

"It just bounced right off my skates and was a bad mishandle for a turnover," he said. "It was a costly one for us."

Phoenix (36-28-14) moved one point ahead of the Dallas Stars in the race for the second Western Conference wild-card spot. But the Stars have two games in hand; they begin a stretch of four games in five nights when they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

The point the Coyotes left on the table was very much on their minds afterward.

"We have to find a way to save that extra point," Chipchura said. "I don't know, we just let it slip. There's only 40 seconds left and even before that, they had a few prime opportunities."

The Coyotes have lost four in a row (0-2-2), including home game to the Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton in the past seven days, allowing six points to escape.

"We gave up a lead in a big game against Minnesota, and again here tonight and gave up a point to Winnipeg," Chipchura said. "The games are tight and can go either way, but we have to find a way to make them go our way."

Scrivens made 24 saves and stopped all four Coyotes -- Mikkel Boedker, Radim Vrbata, Antoine Vermette and Oliver Ekman-Larsson -- in the shootout. Greiss also made 24 saves and denied Eberle, David Perron and Matt Hendricks in the tiebreaker before Gagner weaved in slowly, made several moves and tucked the puck around the goaltender on the forehand.

Justin Schultz gave Edmonton a 1-0 lead in the final minute of the first period. The Coyotes answered with Ekman-Larsson's power-play goal in the second period.

The Oilers snapped a three-game losing streak; they had lost six of the past seven before beating the Coyotes for the third time in their last 13 meetings. All three wins have come after regulation. But this one felt especially good.

"It's not about being the spoiler. It's just fun to be part of a game that means something," Eakins said. "We've been playing for each other and looking for improvement within the room. Now at this point in the season we're playing teams where the games are huge to them.

"It's fun and challenging to be in those games. We've been happy with the way the guys have been playing and it was nice to see them get rewarded with a win."

The Coyotes, who have scored four goals in their past four games, managed six harmless shots in the first period. Meanwhile the Oilers' top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle, which had combined for 13 points in the past two games, pressured the Phoenix net several times before cashing in transition in the final minute.

Hall carried the puck through the neutral zone, put on the brakes and fed Schultz ahead on the right side. Schultz's shot deflected off of a prone Ekman-Larsson and fluttered over Greiss with 45 seconds left in the period. Schultz scored his 10th goal of the season, and Hall's assist was his sixth point in the past three games.

It stayed that way until late in the second period, when Edmonton's Jeff Petry hooked down Mike Ribeiro and gave the Coyotes their first power play. Phoenix needed only 13 seconds to cash in. Ekman-Larsson took a Keith Yandle pass in the right circle, used a screen by Shane Doan and put a wrist shot off the shoulder of Scrivens and into the far corner at 14:32.

Ekman-Larsson's 14th goal snapped a Phoenix scoreless drought of 139 minutes, 13 seconds - dating back to Michalek's goal in the second period of a 2-1 shootout loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday.

The Coyotes lost center Martin Hanzal to a lower-body injury late in the second period, but Chipchura stepped into his spot on the second line and made a big play to put Phoenix ahead.

Good work by Martin Erat and along the boards got the puck to Ekman-Larsson at the point. Scrivens was able to stop Erat's deflection of the defenseman's shot, but Chipchura pounced on the rebound and pushed in his fifth goal of the season and third in the past seven games.

But Phoenix's first third-period goal in nine games wasn't enough.

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