Nail Yakupov slid right into the hearts of Edmonton Oilers fans Thursday night.
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The top pick in last summer’s NHL entry draft scored with 4.7 seconds left in the third period and Sam Gagner had the winner in overtime as Edmonton rallied for a wild 2-1 victory over the winless Los Angeles Kings.
Yakupov’s exuberant celebration took him to center ice, where he dropped to his knees and slid into Edmonton’s defensive zone, screaming, as the 16,839 fans at Rexall Place cheered him on.
”The fans were crazy,” Yakupov said. ”It was probably my greatest feeling. We showed our heart. It was the best night in the world. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Yakupov’s celebration had Oilers coach Ralph Krueger smiling.
”He’s watched a lot of soccer games,” Krueger joked.
Krueger said the game brought out the best in his team.
”If we want passion and to be challenged, there was a lot of that tonight,” he said. ”You have to love the compete in the group. … The persistence at the end of the game showed truly the character of this group. To finish it off in overtime was a very mature step in a very difficult situation emotionally.”
Gagner came through with a power-play goal 3:01 into overtime. He snuck in from the point to score the winner after the defending Stanley Cup champions were caught with too many men on the ice.
Jeff Carter scored for the Kings (0-2-1), winless after three games for the first time since the 1985-86 season.
There were 17 power plays in the game. Edmonton went 1 for 9 and the Kings dropped to 0 for 19 this season.
”That had to be a record for the least 5-on-5 play in a hockey game. The referees were great,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter deadpanned. ”Both goalies were pretty awesome.”
There was a crazy finish to regulation, too.
Edmonton appeared to tie it with 1:05 left in the third on a goal by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but after video review the officials ruled that Gagner was in the crease and the goal was not allowed. Irate fans littered the ice with debris – they thought Rob Scuderi had pushed Gagner into Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick on the play.
However, the Oilers did pull even a minute later. Yakupov was able to bat down a rebound at the side of the net for his second goal of the season, with Edmonton goalie Devan Dubnyk on the bench for an extra attacker.
”We just couldn’t finish it,” Kings forward Jarret Stoll said. ”We made a couple of mistakes right at the end and they capitalized. It was a weird, weird game. It was an odd one. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.
”We have to figure it out and find a way to get two points. We battled hard tonight, but not enough.”
The game started much slower than it ended. The Kings had a good opportunity early with a two-man advantage for 2 minutes, but couldn’t capitalize despite twice hitting the post behind Dubnyk.
Los Angeles had plenty of power-play chances in the first half of the opening frame, but went 0 for 5 with the man advantage.
After weathering the storm, the Oilers were awarded a two-man power play of their own. But they couldn’t find the back of the net against Quick.
The shots favored Edmonton 14-8 in the scoreless first.
The Oilers had a chance to get the game’s first goal 6 minutes into the second period on a two-on-one but Quick robbed Yakupov with a huge glove save.
Los Angeles finally broke the scoreless tie with 6 1/2 minutes remaining in the second period when a giveaway by Edmonton defender Nick Schultz allowed Carter to get loose on a breakaway. He made the most of it, beating Dubnyk high to the stick side for his first goal of the season.
Dubnyk earned the win with 30 saves, while Quick stopped 37 shots for the Kings.
NOTES:It was the first of three meetings between the teams this season. The clubs split their four-game series in 2011-12. … The Kings brought an eight-game point streak in Edmonton into the game, having gone 7-0-1 in that span since a regulation loss at Rexall Place on Feb. 28, 2008. … The Oilers were without forward Ben Eager, out indefinitely with a concussion. Also out for Edmonton were Andy Sutton (knee), Theo Peckham (hip flexor), Ryan Jones (eye) and Nikolai Khabibulin (hip). … Kings defenseman Matt Greene (back) was placed on injured reserve this week and will likely miss the remainder of the season. Willie Mitchell (knee surgery) is also out, but he practiced this week. … Former Oiler Dustin Penner was a healthy scratch for the Kings. Fellow forward Simon Gagne was also a healthy scratch for Los Angeles as the Kings tried to send a message after a slow start to the season. … Edmonton native Mark Fistric made his debut on defense for the Oilers after being acquired via trade from the Dallas Stars for a third-round pick.