With their season on the line, the Edmonton Oilers survived a wild game with the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, earning a gritty 7-5 win at Rexall Place.
Sam Gagner notched two goals and Ales Hemsky added three assists for the Oilers (38-33-5), who pulled to within three points of the Avalanche for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"We are just having fun right now and trying to make plays and come out with some wins and see where we end up," Gagner said. "Tonight was a great effort by everybody, and hopefully we have the same effort going down the stretch."
Dustin Penner, Fernando Pisani, Kyle Brodziak, Marc Pouliot and Marty Reasoner all added goals for the Oilers, who have won 11 of their last 14 games.
"I'm down to my last nerve," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "It wasn't easy. It should have been a lot easier than it was. We had a great start and then we lacked a little composure in those key situations. Perhaps the youthfulness comes into play. The good thing is that we are getting the experience and still winning the games."
Dwayne Roloson continued his strong play of late for Edmonton, making 29 saves for his fourth win in five starts.
"We were able to battle through the adversity tonight, and that's a big building block for the team," Roloson said. "We took a couple steps backwards in our last game, but we found a way to get moving forward again."
Despite a valiant rally from three goals down, the Avalanche (39-31-6) missed an opportunity to solidify their playoff position and bury their division rivals for the season.
Tyler Arnason, Ruslan Salei, Wojtek Wolski, Milan Hejduk and John-Michael Liles all tallied for Colorado, which dropped its fourth game in a row.
"We'd certainly have liked to have grabbed something out of this one," Colorado head coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was a tough trip, but we still control where we're heading and it's up to us to pick it up. We lost three tough games, all one-goal games. We have to find a way to get some momentum at home, we play there three times in a row and we'll play it one game at a time."
Colorado netminder Jose Theodore allowed three goals on eight shots in the first period before being pulled in favour of Petr Budaj, who allowed another three goals on 20 shots.
Oilers jump out to big lead
Fifty seconds into the game, the Oilers caught Colorado defenceman Scott Hannan pinching, and Hemsky finished off a two-on-one rush by setting up Penner's 21st goal of the season.
Hemsky then created Edmonton's next goal off another rush. Cutting into the slot, he dropped a pass to a trailing Gagner, who whipped a shot past Theodore for his 11th at 11:30.
A hard-nosed effort by Reasoner led to the Oilers' third straight goal of the period. After digging the puck out from down low, the forward planted himself in front of the crease and provided a screen for a shot from Pisani, which found the back of the net at 14:29 and chased Theodore from the game.
The Avalanche finally got on the scoreboard five minutes into the second as Arnason lofted a weak backhanded shot that deflected off Roloson's shoulder and in the net to cut the lead to 3-1.
Edmonton then restored its three-goal cushion five minutes later as Brodziak earned a breakaway and fired a shot under Budaj's arm to push the lead back to 4-1.
But Colorado used a flurry of goals to climb right back into the game in the third period.
Salei notched his fifth goal of the season as his long dump-in from the point deflected off Edmonton defenceman Denis Grebeshkov and through Roloson's legs to cut the deficit to 4-2.
The Avalanche then exploded for two goals in the span of 35 seconds to level the score.
Joe Sakic's backhand pass from behind the net set up a Wolski for his 17th goal of the season at 3:41. Hejduk then scored a similar goal just seconds later to erase the Edmonton lead.
But as they did throughout the game, the Oilers responded. Just 18 seconds after Hejduk's goal, Pouliot came out from behind the net and swatted a rebound past Budaj for his first goal of the season to put Edmonton back on top 5-4.
"I thought we stole the momentum back, but they came right back and it shows a lot of character on their part because a lot of teams would have crumbled," Avalanche assistant captain Ian Laperriere said.
Gagner's one-timer from in front of the net at 10:48 of the third gave the rookie his first multiple-goal game of his career and restored a two-goal lead for the Oilers.
But Colorado refused to roll over, as Liles scored with 2:42 remaining to pull the Avalanche within one. The defenceman threw the puck out front from behind the net before it hit defenceman Tom Gilbert's skate and redirected into the Oilers net.
Reasoner then capped a bizarre game with a fitting goal. With the Colorado net empty in the game's dying seconds, the Edmonton centre was hauled down by Paul Stastny and was awarded a goal despite not shooting.
"We've had a wild year and nothing really surprises us anymore," Reasoner said of the comeback. "It was a big game and we were happy to be able to pull through.
"We'll worry about the mistakes tomorrow."