The Edmonton Oilers avoided disaster by winning the final two games of their longest road trip in franchise history.
Now set to play the majority of their games at Rexall Place, the Oilers shoot for their first three-game winning streak in over a year on Friday night as they look to avenge last week's shutout loss against the Detroit Red Wings.
Edmonton was two points out of a playoff spot before it began a nine-game road trip on Feb. 25 with an overtime loss in Chicago. The Oilers then closed out the month with a win at Dallas, but went on to drop the next five games of their swing.
That included consecutive shutout losses in Detroit and Nashville last Thursday and Friday, but Edmonton picked up a huge 6-5 win at Chicago on Sunday before ending its road trip with a 4-0 triumph in Colorado on Tuesday.
Devan Dubnyk made 36 saves for his fifth career shutout and first this season, while Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all scored goals.
After netting 18 goals as a rookie last season, Nugent-Hopkins picked up just his second goal of this campaign and first in 12 games. Like the rest of the Oilers, the 19-year-old is hoping that the back-to-back road wins will spark the club down the stretch, where they will play 14 of their final 22 at home.
"Obviously, it was a tale of two extremes," said Horcoff after practice Thursday. "Going into Chicago there, we were as down and out as we've been in a long time. But to be able to respond with two wins, we come home three points out of the playoffs and really within striking distance with a lot of confidence. We finished strong and we'll take the positive out of it."
Thursday's results now leave the Oilers four points out of the eighth spot in the West that is currently occupied by the Red Wings and Phoenix Coyotes, who have 29 points each. Edmonton can cut into that deficit with its first three- game winning streak since Jan. 31-Feb. 4 of last year.
Solving the Red Wings could prove to be difficult. The Oilers have lost a pair of meetings in Detroit this season, including last week's 3-0 setback.
Detroit has won three straight, 10 of 11 and 14 of the past 18 encounters overall, though Edmonton did snap a three-game series home losing streak to the Red Wings with a shootout win on Feb. 4 of last season.
The Red Wings do come into this meeting having lost three straight following a 5-1-1 burst and off what head coach Mike Babcock called a "disturbing" 5-2 setback in Calgary on Wednesday.
Valtteri Filppula and Niklas Kronwall had goals to help the Red Wings take a 2-2 tie into the third period, but the Flames responded with three third- period tallies, capitalizing on Detroit's mistakes and sending the club to its fifth loss in the past six road games.
"That was a disturbing loss because all we had to do was continue to do things right and you win the game," Babcock said afterwards. "Whether we don't have the maturity as a group, or the stick-to-it-ness, there's no sense in what happened here tonight.
"We had the puck. They couldn't get the puck. When you go through their goals, we just gave it to them. So to me that's a tough one to swallow."
Jonas Gustavsson gave up all five goals on 22 shots, while Filppula snapped Detroit's season-opening 0-for-37 road skid on the power play. That was the longest stretch in team history since the 1928-29 Detroit Cougars failed to score a single road power-play goal during their 44-game schedule that season.
Filppula returned after missing seven straight games with a sprained shoulder, while goaltender Jimmy Howard was dealing with illness in Calgary. He said on Thursday that he is feeling better and he is expected to start this game.
Howard posted a 22-save shutout in last week's meeting and is 8-1-2 with a 1.96 goals against average and two shutouts in 11 career starts versus the Oilers.
Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg both have three points in the two meetings this season and are looking to end lengthy goal-scoring droughts.
Datsyuk has failed to light the lamp in 11 straight games after scoring a goal in five straight, while Zetterberg has no goals in his past eight and just one over his last 20 contests.
Zetterberg does have nine points in his last six versus the Oilers, including one goal.