Nail Yakupov made a pretty strong case to stay on the Edmonton Oilers' top line.

The Russian winger, who has spent more time in the doghouse than Lassie this season, scored the game winner Thursday, lifting the Oilers to a 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers.

Yakupov netted the winner with 1:38 to go in the third period, one-timing a Sam Gagner pass over the shoulder of Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot.

“It was a good play by our guys down low, they protected the puck,” Yakupov said. “Then all I had to do was find space in the middle because saw that we had two guys behind the net. All you have to do is find some space and they’ll give you the puck and when you get the puck, you have to shoot it, so I did.

Taylor Hall started the play behind the net, fighting off Brad Richards and sliding the puck to Gagner in the corner. Gagner — who had been the subject of rampant trade rumours during the day — found Yakupov in the high slot.

“I think that was our top game this season,” Yakupov said. “We didn’t have many turnovers and our goalie played awesome.

“We didn’t take any penalties, which is good, we played five-on-five all the time. All the guys on the team, they just battled for two points.”

Yakupov had been moved up to the Oilers first line in order to spread the wealth, with Jordan Eberle sliding down to play with David Perron and Gagner.

The top line had good jump all night.

“They are great players, and I think we all have pretty good speed,” Yakupov said. “I thought we played good. We had a couple of chances. We have to keep doing that, we have to play hard in the defensive zone and that will lead to more time in the offensive zone.”

A couple of days in New York did the team wonders, replenishing their energy reserves, which was evident throughout the contest.

The Oilers got off to a quick start as Ryan Smyth scored on his first shift of the game, getting to a rebound behind Talbot.