The Edmonton Oilers are likely going to enter the Olympic break with more confidence than any other last-place team in hockey.
Winners of five of their last six, the Western Conference-worst Oilers will try to skate into a three-week layoff with one more win Friday night as they complete a four-game East Coast trip against the slumping New Jersey Devils.
Edmonton (20-33-6) improved to 5-1-0 since Jan. 26 with a 2-1 win Thursday against the New York Rangers. Nail Yakupov scored in the final two minutes to ensure another top-notch performance by goaltender Ben Scrivens was rewarded with a victory.
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"I think that was our top game of this season," Yakupov told the team’s official website. "I think we played good and (didn’t have) many turnovers and our goalie played an awesome game. No penalties today, which is good.
"We played 5-on-5 all the time and every guy on the team, they just battled for two points. We’ve got to do that because it’s a great time before the break I think. (We’ll try to) get the next points, too."
Scrivens stopped 35 shots and won for the third time in four starts, despite facing massive shot totals. He has a 1.50 goals-against average and .965 save percentage in those games while facing an average of 42.5 shots.
"He’s come in and been very vocal. He’s been very positive with a team that has suffered greatly," Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins said. "With his play, he’s been able to back up his words, which is important."
The Oilers have been outshot in every game on the hot streak – a combined 242-155 margin – and have also gotten solid play from backup Ilya Bryzgalov, who has won his last two starts with a 2.00 GAA and .944 save percentage.
Neither goalie was around for the last meeting with the Devils (23-21-13), who lost 5-4 in a shootout Oct. 7 in Edmonton.
Cory Schneider wasn’t in net for New Jersey, but he will be this time, marking his fifth straight start since Martin Brodeur allowed six goals in the first two periods of a 7-3 loss to the Rangers on Jan. 26. The Devils’ 1-2-2 stretch started with that game and reached its current point after Monday’s 2-1 home overtime loss to Colorado.
"Tonight for me the story is we have to find a way to get a second and third goal," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "We got a goal from our fourth line, which is a bonus goal. We had enough chances to get five. You let anybody hang around in this league long enough, bad things happen and that’s the story lately."
Schneider allowed at least three goals in his first five December starts, but since then he’s allowed three goals once in 13 games for a 1.51 GAA and .943 save percentage.
New Jersey has given up late goals to force overtime in three straight, and this one was made that much more painful by the three posts the Devils hit.
"It’s unlucky until it keeps happening over and over and over again," said DeBoer, whose team has scored nine goals in five games. "I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s unlucky."
Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov sat out against the Avalanche with a lower-body injury sustained against Nashville on Friday night.