DENVER (AP) - Shawn Horcoff has had a big hand in the Edmonton Oilers' resurgence since returning from a broken knuckle.
The Oilers captain scored a goal in his second straight game back from the injury and Devan Dubnyk stopped 36 shots for his first shutout in nearly a year, helping Edmonton beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-0 on Tuesday night.
Sam Gagner, Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also scored for the Oilers, who went 3-4-2 on their franchise-record nine-game, 17-day road trip.
The Oilers finished by winning two straight, beating the NHL-leading Blackhawks in Chicago and blanking the high-flying Avalanche.
It was a much-needed morale boost after they dropped five straight early in the trip. It might have saved their postseason aspirations, too.
``If we don't win these two, if not close, we're really close to having it be something miraculous to make the playoffs,' Horcoff said. ``In a lot of ways, we can look back at this at the end of year and hopefully say, `That was pivotal for us.''
Dubnyk was in top form even after leaving Sunday's game against Chicago early with a neck injury following a collision with a teammate. He showed no lingering effects, stopping everything thrown his way for his fifth NHL shutout.
``It was good,' Dubnyk said of his neck. ``On quick plays, jerking around, it would grab a bit. But nothing I would even think for a second about.'
Colorado nearly scored on Dubnyk early in the third period to make it 3-1, but Jan Hejda's goal was disallowed when Gabriel Landeskog was called for goaltender interference.
Dubnyk thought it was the right call.
``The difference is that I got out to my spot and stopped,' the goalie said. ``He moved back to me and didn't allow me to make the save.
``The ref was in great position to see I was out there and set. He made a great call.'
Landeskog had a different take.
``I thought I wasn't in the crease,' he said. ``I thought I wasn't disturbing the goalie there. It's unfortunate. Because if we had 3-1 there, it's a completely different game.'
Horcoff is steadily rounding back into scoring shape after missing 15 games. He scored his third goal of the season midway through the opening period - more than enough offense for Dubnyk.
``When we're energized and focused on the right things, we're a good team,' said Horcoff, who added extra reinforcement to his glove to keep his sore hand protected. ``When we're not, we're a terrible team. There's no in between for us. The good news is, the more we get in those situations and be successful doing the right things, the easier it is to sink in.'
The Avs were bottled up as they concluded a three-game homestand. They began by halting the Blackhawks' NHL record streak of earning at least one point in the first 24 games and then knocked off San Jose on Matt Duchene's goal just before the horn sounded to end overtime.
This was Colorado's first loss at home since Feb. 11.
``That was a bad game, a bad game by everyone,' Avs coach Joe Sacco said. ``There's just no other way to put it. We just did not play well.'
The Oilers solved Semyon Varlamov, who has been hard to beat at home, where he is 8-3-1. Only Jimmy Howard of Detroit and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers have more home wins this season with nine each.
Soon after Colorado's goal was nullified, Nugent-Hopkins scored on a power play to seal the Oilers' second straight win.
Paajarvi extended Edmonton's lead to 3-0 midway through the second period when he caught the Avalanche in a shift change. The forward zipped down the left boards and lined a shot at Varlamov, the puck bouncing high into the air. Paajarvi patiently waited for it to come down before swatting it in.
Edmonton not only took advantage of favorable bounces, but defenders falling down, too.
Horcoff had an easy path to the net after Landeskog tripped trying to thwart the play. Horcoff simply skated in on Varlamov and lined a shot between the goalie's pads.
That was the 158th goal of Horcoff's career, moving him past Doug Weight for ninth place on the Oilers' career goals list.
``It's as complete of a game as we have played,' Horcoff said. ``It's not easy to finish in Denver.'
NOTES: Avalanche F Milan Hejduk missed a fifth game with a torso injury, but he could soon return to practice. ... Avs D Tyson Barrie was reassigned to Lake Erie of the AHL before the game. ... Colorado forward P.A. Parenteau had his career-best, six-game point streak end. ... Edmonton forwards Ales Hemsky and Taylor Hall both had two assists. Eight Oilers had at least one point.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved