MONTREAL - As a young team still trying to find its way and its identity, the Edmonton Oilers may just look back to Wednesday night as a major building block in that process.
Edmonton erased a two-goal deficit in the third period on goals by Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner, then Dustin Penner sealed it by scoring on a breakaway 2:28 into overtime as the Oilers rallied to beat the
Montreal Canadiens 4-3 at the Bell Centre.
With the win the Oilers (8-12-4) got their first points of the season when trailing after two periods, and won consecutive games for the first time since winning the two opening games of the season.
As far as character building wins go, this would rank pretty high.
"The bottom line is that we really gutted it out here, when we could have just gone south and said that's good enough," coach Tom Renney said. "These guys clearly understand that's not good enough anymore. That's the beauty of a team growing up before your eyes."
Penner won the game when he took advantage of a turnover by Mike Cammalleri at center ice to race in alone on Carey Price. He slid a backhander through the goaltender's legs for the game-winner, giving the Oilers their first victory in Montreal since Nov. 4, 2003.
"It's exciting, we were pushing pretty hard in the third," Gagner said. "We've had struggles this year following up wins with wins. To come back and tie the game is a pretty exciting feeling, and for (Penner) to win it for us is a pretty exciting feeling, too."
Hemsky had a goal and 2 assists in his first game back after missing the last three with a groin injury and tied Penner for the team lead with four shots on goal. His line with Gagner and rookie Magnus Paajarvi was Edmonton's most dangerous on the night, with the trio combining for 6 points.
"That first game is usually the toughest game coming back, but he was pretty dynamic offensively out there, creating a lot of chances," Gagner said of Hemsky. "He was able to bury one there and it's good for him. Hopefully he can continue to follow it up."
Roman Hamrlik and Mathieu Darche each had a goal and an assist, Scott Gomez also scored and Cammalleri had a pair of assists for the Canadiens (15-8-2), who have alternated wins and losses in their past seven games.
It was the second time in that stretch in which Montreal has blown a two-goal lead, and Canadiens coach Jacques Martin was just as unimpressed this time as he was when his team lost 3-2 in Philadelphia on Nov. 22.
"That's a good team, they have talent," Martin said. "If you don't respect them, or any team, and try to open the throttle you're playing with fire, and you'll get burned."
Hemsky's goal was vital in triggering the comeback. Price managed to make the save after Jim Vandermeer's shot was tipped in front by Paajarvi, but the puck bounced out to Hemsky, who had little trouble burying his seventh of the season at 10:09 of the third, cutting the deficit to 3-2.
The Canadiens had a chance to re-establish their two-goal margin when Shawn Horcoff went off for high-sticking at 11:36. They created a number of chances early in the power play, but a desperate attempt to hold the zone by P.K. Subban resulted in a 2-on-1 the other way for Gagner and Hemsky.
Gagner carried the puck into the right circle and waited to make the pass across, but when that option was eliminated by Jaroslav Spacek, he roofed a quick shot from the right circle right under the crossbar at 13:17 to tie the game at 3-3.
"To be honest I wanted to pass, I'm more of a passer than a shooter," Gagner said. "The d-man took it all away, so I faked the pass, pulled it to the middle to try and get him off his post and was able to sneak it in there."
It was the first time this season Montreal had given up a shorthanded goal, leaving the Atlanta Thrashers as the only team in the League that hasn't been scored on while on the power play.
Devan Dubnyk allowed his teammates to get back into the game with 36 saves, including all 12 shots he saw in the third period. Price was strong in the Canadiens net with 28 saves and had little to no chance on any of the goals he allowed. It was only the third time in his last 10 starts he's allowed as many as three goals in regulation time.
"If it wouldn't have been for Carey Price," Martin said, "the score would have been different after two."
The Canadiens' power play struck on two of its three opportunities, with both Darche and Gomez cashing in on the man advantage against Edmonton's League-worst penalty killing unit. It was the first time in seven games the Canadiens scored twice on the power play, and only the fourth time all season.
Gomez opened the scoring for the Canadiens when he banked a pass in front off Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney for his third of the season at 13:05 of the first, but Kurtis Foster came right back with a power play goal of his own on a rocket slap shot at 17:45.
Darche put Montreal up 2-1 by cashing in a Cammalleri rebound at 8:01 of the second and Hamrlik scored at 10:02 on a sneaky back door play to make it 3-1 after two.
But that's when things began going south for Montreal.
"That was the turning point," Martin said. "From that point on we tried to do too many things individually."
Meanwhile, in the visiting coach's office, Renney was beaming like a proud father over a gutsy win against one of the League's top-tier clubs.
"We're a long way from being a finished product, obviously," Renney said. "But certainly, this is a step in the right direction."