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Oilers top Panthers for third straight win

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- The wheels are starting to roll in the right direction for the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers extended their winning streak to three games by beating the Florida Panthers 4-1 on Thursday. It's the first time this season the Oilers have won three straight.

"It wasn't a perfect game by any means, but to get a win and to have won three straight going into a bit of a break, it's nice to have some momentum going," left wing Taylor Hall said. "Winning games does so much for the confidence of the team, especially when you are playing well and winning. That's a double bonus. We are getting great goaltending, and it seems like our special teams is the engine that is driving us right now. We are getting a lot of confidence off of that."

Jordan Eberle, with a pair, Sam Gagner and David Perron scored for the Oilers. Scottie Upshall scored the Panthers' only goal.

Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk made 24 saves to earn his sixth win of the season. Panthers goalie Tim Thomas, making his seventh consecutive start since returning from a lower-body injury, stopped 31 shots.

"The key was the energy; we didn't have any," Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. "That's the key to the game. If your energy is better and you go out with a workman attitude, everything improves; the whole game improves from our standpoint.

"I thought at the beginning of the game, you could see the work ethic wasn't there, the legs weren't there, the compete level wasn't there. That made it a struggle."

Eberle opened the scoring on the power play 57 seconds into the game when he knocked a rebound past Thomas at the side of the net after the goaltender turned aside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' point shot.

Nugent-Hopkins had three assists.

Gagner extended the Oilers' lead 6:10 into the second. He was the beneficiary of a good individual effort from Nail Yakupov, who played the puck to himself off the boards at center, then led an odd-man rush into the Panthers zone. Yakupov used Ales Hemsky as a decoy and sent a pass across to Gagner, who beat Thomas for his first goal of the season.

The Oilers added another power-play goal at 10:54 of the second when Perron tipped in Justin Schultz's point shot.

"I thought we were good and bad in the game," Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said. "I saw lots of good in our last game [a 7-0 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday], but I thought we were getting a little cute at times in this game. We were playing like we were going to rack these guys 7-0 too and have our way with them, and that's never going to happen in this league. You have to play hard and go through your habits hard. I think we got away from that a little tonight at times. It was concerning, but we were able to snap it back."

Upshall cut into the Oilers' lead at 16:34, finding a hole between Dubnyk and the post on a wraparound. The Oilers goaltender was hugging the post, but Upshall was somehow able to squeeze the puck past him. The goal snapped Dubnyk's shutout streak at 119:26.

Prior to that, the Oilers had scored 14 unanswered goals, dating back to their 4-2 win against the Calgary Flames on Saturday.

"That's when hockey gets real tough, when you go down goals," Upshall said. "Teams in this league, once you're down two or three goals, it's tough to come back. When we got that first one, it kind of gave us some life, and I really thought we carried most of the momentum in the third. Overall, though, it was a bad start, even though it was a good finish to the game."

The Panthers went into the game on a two-game winning streak of their own with road wins against the Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks. They'll conclude a five-game road trip against the Calgary Flames on Friday.

"We've had a couple of hard days, a couple of hard games, and we're asking a lot out of everyone right now," Upshall said. "We're asking everyone to play extra hard, do the extra things and go to the hard areas. I think our D are playing great, our goaltending is keeping us in games. As forwards, we got to keep bearing down, keep going to the net hard and keep playing a hard game. That's all we can do.

"Things around here have been difficult and in the last week, we got up over a hill. We saw a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Our coaching staff believes in us, and together we have to keep working hard. We have a team of character guys that collectively have to come out and win games."

Eberle added an empty-netter with 1:12 left in regulation. He has eight goals.

The win was the Oilers' third at home this season. They've won back-to-back games at Rexall Place after losing seven of their first eight.

"Guys are speaking the same language now," Eakins said. "Maybe a guy is missing an assignment, now we have three or four guys yelling from the bench. Or if the guy is getting the assignment done, there is encouragement. Those are really positive signs, and something we want to build our foundation on.

"It's always nice when you are coming off the ice and [the fans] are clapping and not yelling, 'You [stink].'"

The Oilers conclude their three-game homestand Monday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

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