VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Markus Naslund's late goal went from insurance tally to necessity.
Marc Chouinard put the Canucks ahead 3-1 on a two-man breakaway seven minutes into the third, but Toby Peterson closed the gap by jamming a puck under goalie Roberto Luongo with 2:44 left. Naslund answered 47 seconds later before Joffrey Lupul caught Luongo looking the wrong way with 36.6 seconds left. Jan Bulis finally sealed a dramatic, intense game with an empty-net goal with 17.7 seconds left.
"You can't emphasize enough how important these games are," Naslund said. "I didn't think we were as sharp as we have to be, especially late in the game, but overall we battled hard and I think we deserved to win."
Mattias Ohlund and Henrik Sedin also scored, and Luongo made 29 saves for the Canucks, who have one regulation loss in 16 games. They had dropped three of the last four in overtime or shootouts but moved two points ahead of Calgary atop the Northwest Division with the win.
"We need to address defensive coverage at the end there," Chouinard said. "It's not about just getting in the playoffs, it's about getting ready for the playoffs, and when it gets tight like that you want to just shut the other team out."
Marty Reasoner scored the other goal for the Oilers, who fell eight points behind the Canucks in the division and six back of Minnesota for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"You knew that when we gave up the fourth one, we were going to get the third, because it just compounds the feeling of the sense of wasted opportunity," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said.
Dwayne Roloson, who returned to the nets after watching backup Jussi Markkanen win his second straight start Wednesday, made 29 saves. He was singled out by MacTavish after Naslund split the defense and put a 20-foot backhand through his legs.
"We couldn't get the save when we needed one," MacTavish said. "Not that Rollie was bad, but we needed him to make the save on Chouinard and on Naslund. It was a two-on-0, and basically a breakaway off a one-on-one. You can't fault the goalie, but you need a save in those situations when we give up those opportunities."
Ohlund opened the scoring in the first period with a wrist shot from the point that deflected in off an Oilers defenseman, and Sedin doubled the lead midway through the second period.
Neither team flinched in a matchup of the NHL's top two penalty-killing units. The Canucks protected their No. 1 ranking by going 7-for-7 in short-handed situations, while the Oilers also killed off all seven power plays against them.
Edmonton did score within seconds of a power play expiring, however, closing the gap to 2-1 with eight minutes left in the second period. With Luongo on his back after Ryan Smyth bumped him in the crease, Canucks defenseman Sami Salo swiped the puck in during a scramble in the slot. It floated over the fallen goalie, who protested the goal to no avail.
Chouinard also scored just after an Oilers power play ended. A bad Edmonton line change left him in alone on Roloson, with teammate Brendan Morrison trailing the play. Chouinard kept it, tucking a backhand deke under Roloson's blocker.
"I was a little surprised there was nobody there," said Chouinard, who scored his only other goal on Dec. 8 and was back in the lineup after Ryan Kesler had season-ending hip surgery this week. "Mo I think helped me out making a sort of block or a pick behind me and giving me more time."
The Oilers also lost center Jarret Stoll late in the first period. MacTavish said Stoll, who recently missed one game with a fractured nose, aggregated the injury after being elbowed by Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa. Stoll will return to Edmonton while the Oilers finish a two-game road trip in Colorado on Saturday.
- Canucks D Willie Mitchell returned after missing six games with a groin injury. D Yannick Tremblay was sent to Manitoba of the AHL.
- Edmonton C Petr Nedved, acquired from Philadelphia off waivers on Jan. 2, was benched for a third straight game. Nedved has one goal and three assists in 10 games with the Oilers.
- This was the first of nine road games in February for the Oilers, 9-12-2 away from home.