They may need a similar performance from him to slow down the NHL-leading Detroit Red Wings, winners of nine of 10 overall and seven in a row in the series, though they’ll be without goaltender Jimmy Howard on Saturday night at Rexall Place.
Gagner entered Thursday’s matchup with Chicago with five goals all season but broke loose for four goals and four assists - the first eight-point game in the NHL since Mario Lemieux did it Dec. 31, 1988 - in an 8-4 victory. He matched a franchise record held by Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey.
“It’s been one of those years where you are looking for things to hang your hats on and feel good about and it doesn’t get much better than this,” said coach Tom Renney, whose team is last in the Northwest Division. “It puts a smile on your face in a tough year.”
Edmonton (20-26-5) has gone 3-0-1 in its last four games - two of those coming against first-place teams San Jose and Vancouver. It’s the club’s best stretch since a six-game winning streak Oct. 22-Nov. 3, but aside from the outburst against the Blackhawks, the Oilers aren’t scoring much.
Coming into Thursday’s contest, Edmonton had managed 15 goals in its previous 10 games.
Minus another huge effort from Gagner, the Oilers could go right back to their offensively challenged ways Saturday as they seek a fourth straight win at home. Detroit (35-16-1) has outscored Edmonton 22-9 in the last six games of its seven-game run in the series, and it’s allowed two or fewer goals eight times during its overall 9-1-0 surge.
The Wings will have to try to continue that defensive dominance without Howard, who will miss the last two games of this five-game trip with a broken finger on his right hand. He suffered the injury Thursday but finished the game to earn his league-best 32nd win.
Ty Conklin should get the start in net Saturday, with veteran Joey McDonald called up from the AHL on Friday to back him up.
Conklin is 4-2-0 with a 3.02 goals-against average versus the Oilers. He would be facing his former team for the first time in exactly one year, having beaten them 5-3 with 29 saves in that game while playing with St. Louis.
The Wings have gone 14-1-6 in the last 21 matchups with Edmonton, and the Oilers could be in even more trouble if they go to a shootout Saturday. Detroit won 4-3 in a tiebreaker at Vancouver on Thursday, improving to 6-0 in shootouts as it increased its lead atop the Western Conference to four points over the Canucks.
“Shootouts are important, not something we take for fun,” forward Dan Cleary said. “If you look at it at the end of the season, those are important points - win or lose.”
Five of the Wings’ last nine wins have come via the tiebreaker. Three of those were on the road, where Detroit has won four of five.
Edmonton’s Taylor Hall had a goal and three assists Thursday and has recorded one goal in each of his last three games.
The Wings’ Jiri Hudler has scored four times during a three-game goal streak. He’ll try to extend it against an Oilers team that’s allowed an average of 40.0 shots over the past four contests.
Detroit has won three straight at Rexall Place, taking the last meeting there 3-2 on Dec. 19 behind 21 saves from Howard.