EDMONTON — Over the years, Ryan Jones has had a front-row seat for hat tossing events. He's heard crowds roar, watched teammates celebrate multi-goal performances, but until Friday, the Edmonton Oilers' assiduous winger hadn't even scored more than once in a game, let alone a hat trick.
"I don't know if you could ever expect that, especially a guy like me, who just grinds away. The goals don't come that easy," he said after he had put away two even-strength markers and an empty-net goal in a 6-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Rexall Place.
"Then to have it happen on a night like tonight, when we really needed them, is something special."
The Oilers popped in four third-period goals — three off the stick of Jones — to amend their earlier ways and erase a 2-1 second period deficit. The win snapped their three-game losing streak and will propel the club into Saturday's contest against the Calgary Flames.
"The first period was awful. I don't know what happened but in the second, we picked it up a little bit, then we really stuck with our game plan," said defenceman Ladislav Smid, another of the unlikeliest of goal scorers.
"This should build our confidence back. There's no reason why we shouldn't play the way we did in the third. Guys are going to be really excited and we shouldn't be given up two points in our building."
Smid had gone almost two years between goals before he finally ended his skid Nov. 26 in a 5-2 loss against the Colorado Avalanche. His career high is three (2006-07), half of his new NHL goal total.
"If I ever scored a hat trick it would be great. You wouldn't be able to stop my celebrating," said Smid. "I would probably go nuts.
"But honestly, I closed my eyes (on the third-period goal). When I was getting the pass, I looked at the net then I looked down and just tried to pound it. There was no aiming. When I came to the bench, (Ryan Whitney) was just laughing at me. He said, 'Did you even look at the net?' I didn't."
The Oilers (13-10-3) got off to a lightning quick start, turning a Rick Nash hooking call into a 1-0 lead just 21 seconds after the puck dropped. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins threaded a pass over to Jordan Eberle who beat Curtis Sanford to register his 10th goal of the season.
Trouble was the Oilers let up, then got into some penalty trouble. Already killing off a Darcy Hordichuk unsportsmanlike minor, the Oilers were served their seventh bench minor of the season — a league high. The Blue Jackets turned the 32-second five-on-three into a 1-1 tie, courtesy of Mark Letestu's one-timer at 18:54 of the first.
The visitors had a 21-7 advantage on the shot clock after the first 20 minutes then took a 2-1 lead in the second on Derek Dorsett's first goal of the night, a short-handed marker that came on the heels of slips by both defenceman Tom Gilbert, who stumbled when he went to play the puck, and goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who charged out to try and make the poke check.
Instead, he left the net wide open for the Blue Jackets' penalty killer who upped the Oilers' short-handed goals-against tally to two.
Dorsett put in an even-strength rebound in the third. It was also his first multi-goal night.
"Coming into the third we knew we had to put on the full court press," said Jones, after his 202nd NHL game. "I think it shows the maturity of how far this team has come in the last couple of years. We need to come back and win games like that."
"This morning we had a video session and the coaches showed us how we don't go to the net enough," said Smid. "I guess it worked. Guys were going to the net, especially in the third and we got some greasy goals. It was nice to see."
At 1:41 of the third, Jones wrapped around his first to kick start the Oilers outburst. He also hit a one-timer after Smid took advantage of an Eberle screen, then tucked away an empty netter with an unselfish feed from captain Shawn Horcoff.
Ales Hemsky, with a backhander, added to the tally.
The Jackets (7-15-3) finished with a 39-34 advantage on the shot clock. They are 0-7-1 when they have 35 or more shots on net.
"I've seen guys do it in the past but Horc was just so unselfish on the empty net. He could have shot it, which just goes to show what kind of leader he is," said Jones, who figured it was back in college that he last heard fans chanting his name.
"That's one of the highlights of my NHL career so far. That was special."
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Edmonton Oilers winger Ryan Jones (middle) is congratulated by goalie Devan Dubnyk (left) and center Ryan O'Marra (right) after scoring a hat trick to defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets in NHL game action in Edmonton on December 2, 2011.
Photograph by: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal