EDMONTON - Before closing the curtain on another disappointing season, the Edmonton Oilers at least offered up some hope for next year.
Nail Yakupov scored his first career hat trick as the Oilers closed out their season with a 7-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.
The Russian rookie scored all three of his goals in an explosive third period for Edmonton, which scored five goals in a span of 3:35.
“It felt amazing to have a three-goal game,” Yakupov said. “We finished strong and I think everybody feels good about that. We didn’t make the playoffs, but I think we can go into the summer feeling good about the last couple of games and our season next year.”
Fellow rookie Justin Schultz had a goal and three assists, Jordan Eberle two goals and Jerred Smithson another marker for the Oilers (19-22-7), who won their last two games of the season but only three of their last 12.
Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger hopes that the win over Vancouver and a 6-1 victory over Minnesota on Friday are positive signs for the future.
“It was a character finish for us,” he said. “We’re not pleased with our final placing and wanted to desperately still be playing hockey after today, but it didn’t happen. We had to answer a question with 10 minutes to go today and that was 'how do we want to send our fans into a summer?' I was really pleased that they had that explosion and let’s remember those cheering fans and create that a lot more than we did this year.”
“We threw our sticks into the crowd and they didn't throw them back, so I guess that's a good sign,” added Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff.
The Oilers have missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons since losing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals to Carolina in 2006.
Derek Roy and Tom Sestito responded for the Canucks (26-15-7), who rested several of their key players in advance of the playoffs. No. 3 Vancouver will meet the No. 6 San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs.
“It was not the ideal way to finish the season, but we’ll have to put this one behind us and get ready for the first game of the playoffs,” said Canucks assistant captain Kevin Bieksa, who returned to the lineup after missing the last five games.
“There is never an excuse for seven goals against. We were playing well for 50 minutes and felt good about our game and made a couple of mistakes and it snowballed.
“You’re not going to win too many playoff games unless you put forth a 60-minute effort, so we have to be better.”
The first goal of the game came three minutes remaining in the first when the Canucks struck on the power play. Vancouver exhibited some great tic-tac-toe passing before Jannik Hansen found Roy at the side of the net for an easy tap-in past Edmonton starter Devan Dubnyk.
Vancouver had nine first period shots to Edmonton's seven on Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
Another late goal highlighted what was otherwise an uneventful second period as the Oilers tied it up with 1:20 remaining. Eberle was able to tip a Schultz shot through Luongo's legs for his 15th of the season.
Edmonton took a 2-1 lead two minutes into the third period on a two-man advantage. Luongo stopped a point blast from Schultz, but Yakupov was there to lift in the rebound.
The Canucks knotted the game back up two minutes later as Dubnyk allowed a bad rebound on a soft shot by Kevin Bieksa and Sestito banged it in to make it 2-2.
The Canucks had a good chance to regain the lead midway through the third as Keith Ballard had a breakaway coming out of the penalty box, but Dubnyk stopped him and a subsequent point blank shot from Maxim Lapierre.
Edmonton's goal barrage started at 13:17 as Taylor Hall made a no-look backhand pass from behind the net that went right to the stick of Schultz in the blue paint for the goal.
Just 59 seconds later Yakupov got his second of the night as Luongo coughed the puck up to Magnus Paajarvi behind the net and he sent it in front for Yakupov to put into the empty cage.
Eberle made 5-2 only 21 seconds later as he walked around defender Frank Corrado and lifted his second of the game up high on Luongo.
Yakupov completed the hat trick a little over a minute later when picked up a rebound in front and lifted a backhand shot into the net for his 17th of the season. That gave the 19-year-old the lead in goal-scoring this season among rookies.
Edmonton added another one at 16:42 as Smithson beat Luongo with a hard shot from the slot.
Notes: It was the final game of the season for both teams and the fifth meeting of the season. The Oilers and Canucks split four their previous games this season... The Canucks opted to sit a large portion of their usual starting lineup as they prep for the playoffs. Sitting out were defencemen Dan Hamhuis, Jason Garrison, Christopher Tanev and Alex Edler, forwards Alexandre Burrows and Daniel Sedin and goalie Cory Schneider. It was the second game that Schneider has sat out with an undisclosed injury and it has not been confirmed if he will be available for the start of the playoffs... Out with injuries for the Oilers were Ales Hemsky, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Whitney and Lennart Petrell... Oilers rookie defenceman Justin Schultz has been added to Team Canada for the World championships in Sweden, joining Edmonton teammates Hall, Eberle and Dubnyk.