Saturday, April 27, 2013

Game 47: Edmonton 6 Minnesota 1

Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov led the charge upfront with a combined eight point effort, while Nikolai Khabibulin was simply outstanding, in what was likely his final appearance in an Oilers uniform. As the Edmonton Oilers destroyed the Minnesota WIld 6-1 in Friday night NHL action, in a game that had huge playoff implication for the Wild.

After losing nine of their previous ten outings, the last six of which being of the embarrassing variety, Edmonton came out ready to play from the drop of the puck. Mike Brown and Zenon Konopka wasted little time in reacquainting themselves with one another, dropping the mitts all of two seconds in and treating the fans to a rather lengthy and spirited affair.

That seemed to energize the Oilers, as Corey Potter hammered home his second of the season, twenty-five seconds after the Brown vs Konopka tilt. Less than seven minutes later, Hall would make it a two goal bulge, rifling a bullet past Niklas Backstrom, after picking Pierre-Marc Bouchard's pocket along the side boards.

Khabibulin managed to keep it a two goal cushion, making a number of timely saves, the best of the bunch being a clutch stop off a Matt Cullen breakaway. His teammates wasted little time repaying their starting goaltender for his efforts.

Potter would beat Backstrom for the second time in the period, burying a gorgeous feed from Eberle, all of twenty seconds after the veteran tender stoned Cullen.

The Oilers carried a 3-0 lead into the intermission, despite being out shot 15-5 in the period. Minnesota carried the play during much of the opening frame but Edmonton made the most of their opportunities and that trend would continue in period two.

Eberle would make it 4-0 early in the second, snapping a perfect shot under the crossbar and behind Josh Harding, who replaced Backstrom after Potter's late first period marker. Than it was time for the Nail Yakupov - Taylor Show as the two youngsters combined for a pair of lovely goals for the rookie winger.

Yakupov snapped a quick shot between the wickets, to make it 5-0, after an absolutely ridiculous move by Hall created a massive lane inside the Wild zone. Three minutes later, he would have his second of the period and fourteenth of the season, neatly redirecting a lead pass from Hall behind a helpless Harding, to make it an even half a dozen for the visitors.

The two goal effort moved Yakupov into a tie for the Rookie goal and point scoring lead, with Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau. With fourteen goals and twenty-eight points on the season, the former Sarina Sting standout has shown to be more than capable of contributing at the NHL level and has already started to address defensive deficiencies within his overall game.

As for Mr. Hall, the three point effort vaulted him back inside the top ten in league scoring with forty-eight points, good enough for a three-way tie with Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and Washington Capitals centre Nicklas Backstrom. In fact, the only player in the Western Conference with more points than the Oilers #4, would be Patrick Kane and his fifty-five points.

Koivu would break Khabibulin's shutout bid midway through the third but in the end, the former ninth round pick of the Winnipeg Jets, put on a show in what could very well be the final start of a tremendous seventeen year career.

While the victory was just his fourth of the season, his GAA and SV% were basically identical to those of starting netminder Devan Dubnyk, for the second consecutive campaign. The win over the Wild was # 332 of the now forty year old's career, leaving him twenty-first on the All-Time Wins List and fourth among active goalies. Trailing only Martin Brodeur(669), Roberto Luongo(348) and Evgeni Nabokov(335).

Edmonton will closeout their 2013 schedule on Saturday night, as they host the Vancouver Canucks in the second game of Hockey Night in Canada's doubleheader. While the game means nothing to either side, you can bet the Canucks want no part of heading into the playoffs on a losing note.

On the other side of the fence, Ralph Krueger's crew will be carrying the burden of a six game home losing streak into the season finale. They have played what has unquestionably been their worst hockey of the season during that stretch and at the very least, owe their fans one solid effort on home ice, before heading into another off-season without playoff hockey.

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