GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 21:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 21, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Oilers defeated the Coyotes 3-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Tonight in Columbus, a chance for the Oilers to prove their doubters wrong

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People are still skeptical about the Edmonton Oilers.

That’s only natural, given the Oilers haven’t made the playoffs in a decade and, in that time, have drafted four times with the first overall pick.

They’ve been a pretty, pretty bad team over the last little while.

And to be sure, the Oilers are still losing games that good teams normally win. Like Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Vancouver, a home game against a non-playoff side that had played the night before.

“We were flat, our execution was poor, we played the game standing still,” head coach Todd McLellan told reporters after that one. “We didn’t go after and skate against a team that played an overtime game the night before. When you stand around and try to do it the easy way, it doesn’t work.”

So when it comes to the Oilers, the skepticism is understandable. In fact, it’s wholly warranted.

Which leads us to their upcoming road trip, starting tonight in Columbus against a Blue Jackets side riding a 15-game winning streak.

If the Oilers would like to prove their doubters wrong, now would be a great time to do it. And to help them, they’ll get Andrej Sekera back after the veteran defenseman missed a couple of games due to illness.

“It’s a good opportunity to play the best team in the NHL right now,” said captain Connor McDavid.

At 19-12-7, the Oilers are still comfortably in a playoff spot, six points up on Dallas and Vancouver. But as mentioned, they have yet to earn the benefit of the doubt that they can hold on. The Oilers could still be caught by Calgary, Los Angeles, or even Vancouver for third place in the Pacific Division. And if that happens, they’d also have to fend off Dallas, Nashville, or even Winnipeg for a wild-card spot.

Oh, and one more thing about this Oilers team — their starting goalie, Cam Talbot, has made 34 starts, against just four for Jonas Gustavsson, who’s gone 1-2-1 with an .893 save percentage.

Talbot has played well, going 18-10-6 with a .919 save percentage, but no goalie has come close to matching his workload, which could make for an interesting stretch drive.

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It could also make for some criticism of GM Peter Chiarelli, if things go sideways.

After all, Gustavsson was a curious signing. His career save percentage in the NHL is just .902, the lowest among the 33 active netminders with at least 150 games of experience. Heck, it was Chiarelli’s former team, the Bruins, who didn’t feel confident enough to bring the goalie back for another season in Boston.

In other words, it’s no real surprise that McLellan doesn’t seem to have any confidence in his backup.

So it’s going to be fun to watch, as these Oilers try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Lots of questions remain. Lots of doubters, too.

“You’ve got to look forward to the challenge,” winger Milan Lucic said ahead of tonight’s big game. “You have to embrace it. That’s the fun in being a competitor and on a competitive team. It’s playing the best of the best.”

And hopefully, for the sake of the Oilers and their loyal fans, coming out on top.

Talk about a Wild comeback for Minnesota

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The Minnesota Wild took back sole possession of the lead in the Central Division, thanks to a thrilling comeback win over the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.

Minnesota trailed 3-1 early in the second period. Jason Zucker closed the deficit in the middle period, before they took the lead for good thanks to a frenzy of three goals from Erik Haula, Ryan Suter and Zucker in 1:59 late in regulation for a 5-3 victory.

“When we came in in between the second and third, knowing we were only down a goal, and knowing our history, we didn’t think we were out of it,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Pioneer Press.

And so the Wild remain one of the hottest teams in the league, leading Chicago by two points.

While it’s a comeback for them, the Ducks don’t quite see it the same way.

“It’s not what they did, to be honest. We self-imploded. Gave up too many opportunities, left our goalie out to dry,” said Cam Fowler.

Additional bad news for the Ducks, however, was that goalie John Gibson left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury, and didn’t return.

 

Bust a move: Capitals win includes unlikely OT hero and dad’s dancing in Dallas

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The usual suspects contributed for the Washington Capitals on Saturday. Down a pair of goals entering the third period, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie helped ignite the comeback on the power play.

But then an unlikely hero emerged.

Jay Beagle scored his 10th goal of the season and the overtime winner to give Washington a 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars. That aforementioned goal total matches his previous career high from two seasons ago.

He initially accomplished the feat over the course of 62 games. This time, he hits 10 goals in 46 games played.

Officials needed to review the play, although replays quickly showed the puck over the line from the Beagle shot in the slot.

The comeback win led to a memorable post-game celebration.

Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.

The Capitals maintain their lead in the Metropolitan Division ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This game versus the Stars included some feisty moments, particularly in the first period when tempers boiled over. Tom Wilson and Brett Ritchie dropped the gloves for a lengthy fight. Three seconds later, Daniel Winnik fought Antoine Roussel.

Ducks goalie Gibson leaves game versus Wild with upper-body injury

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks in action during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Anaheim goaltender John Gibson has left Saturday’s game against Minnesota with an upper-body injury.

A short-angle shot from Mikko Koivu appeared to hit Gibson in the upper chest with 5:39 to play in the first period. The goaltender immediately went down on one knee and was quickly attended to by a trainer. Gibson gingerly skated to the bench and went straight to the locker room.

Anaheim announced that Gibson is doubtful to return.

Gibson is 7-1-1 with two shutouts in his past nine starts. He was replaced by Jonathan Bernier.

Gibson stopped four of five shots he faced while making his fourth straight start.

Playoff hopes take a jolt: Coyotes crush Bishop and the Bolts

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning tends net against the New York Islanders during the second period at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Of the surprises in the NHL so far this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning has to be right up there on the list.

In 2015, they went to the Stanley Cup Final. The future had looked bright, but this signified the Bolts’ arrival into the top tier of teams in the league. Last season, they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and lost to the eventual champions from Pittsburgh. That was a playoff run that did not include Steven Stamkos until the deciding game of the East final.

This year? The Bolts are currently not in a playoff position. They’ve had issues defensively. They’ve had issues on offense. They’ve had issues with goaltending. They’ve dealt with injuries or illness to key players like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and other important members of their lineup.

Looking to gain ground in the playoff chase, the Bolts had what looked to be the perfect opponent to mend their troubles — at least for one game. On Saturday, Tampa Bay faced the Arizona Coyotes, losers of four in a row and sitting above only Colorado in the Western Conference standings.

The perfect remedy, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

The Bolts lost 5-3, mostly because of a disastrous opening two periods. Ben Bishop started and was pulled after 40 minutes, allowing five goals on 17 shots.

Down a goal after the first period, things went south for the Bolts in the middle period. The Coyotes — one of only two teams in the entire league still stuck under 100 goals-for entering this game — beat Bishop for three goals on just nine shots in the second.

The Bolts are dead last in the Atlantic Division, five points back of third-place Boston. They are four points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot, but there are seven teams ahead of Tampa Bay in that race.

There is still lots of time left in the season. But the Bolts had stressed the importance and urgency needed on this current six-game road trip, and they haven’t delivered.

A loss to the Coyotes would certainly seem like rock bottom.