A three-game winning streak has the Edmonton Oilers on the verge of climbing out of the Northwest Division cellar. To do so, they'll have to knock off a surging Florida Panthers team that appears ready to make a push for the Southeast Division lead.
The Oilers look to match a season high with their fourth straight victory Thursday when they host the Panthers, who will be trying for their fifth win in six games.
Edmonton (13-11-2) opened the season with four consecutive wins, but went 5-10-2 over its next 17 to drop to the bottom of the division. The Oilers appear to have finally regained that early form, winning four of five since.
Edmonton is hoping a four-day break doesn't slow its momentum, as it's been off since ending San Jose's nine-game winning streak with a 3-2 overtime victory on the road Saturday night. Veteran Dwayne Roloson made 41 saves as the Oilers survived a 43-17 shot disadvantage and dropped the Sharks' NHL-best record to 22-3-2.
"He was so composed all night," center Kyle Brodziak, who scored on the power play in overtime, said of the 39-year-old Roloson. "Even when they were threatening, he just hung in there. That was a huge lift for us. He comes to work every day with enthusiasm, he works hard, and he still enjoys the game."
The recent run has all of the Oilers enjoying themselves at the moment.
"We did a lot of good things the last three games so we can definitely build off that," defenseman Tom Gilbert said. "There's more life in the locker room and during practice and the guys are a lot happier, so it's definitely a good thing for us to finally get this positive attitude back in the locker room."
Last-place Edmonton has moved within one point of Colorado, which is off Thursday, in the tightly bunched Northwest.
The Oilers will be facing a Panthers team that has also gotten hot after slumping. Florida (12-12-3) went 4-8-3 from Oct. 25-Nov. 28, a stretch that started with a six-game losing streak, but is 4-1-0 since.
The Panthers bounced back from a shutout that snapped their three-game win streak with a 4-3 overtime victory at Ottawa on Monday. Stephen Weiss scored with 9.1 seconds left in the extra period for Florida, which is 5-1-2 in its last eight and back in contention in the Southeast.
Florida erased three one-goal deficits on goals from Jay Bouwmeester, Michal Repik - the first of his career - and Nick Boynton before Weiss' winner.
"That shows a lot of character," Weiss said. "This is a tough building to play in. They're a good hockey club, especially when you get down, they're tough to come back on and to get those goals right away after gave us a lot of jump."
Bouwmeester's goal gave him 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in his last 13 games, while Alex Auld stopped 36 shots for Florida in his 11th consecutive start.
The Oilers have dominated this series of late, winning the last four meetings, and the Panthers haven't won in Edmonton since Jan. 5, 1996. That drought includes five losses and one tie.