It had to happen sometime. Jonathan Quick had won all four game sevens he had played in up until Saturday night. That might have predicted a cinch clinch against Edmonton, who in that scenario would be stonewalled by his prowess and fail to score on lots of good chances. Or it might have made an odds thing, where sooner or later, a loss is going to occur.
In truth, while he did suffer a blemish on his record in a 2-0 loss to eliminate the Kings from the playoffs, Quick didn’t lose this game as much as the Kings didn’t win it. That’s not an indictment, because the LA team put on a clinic in tight-checking Kings hockey, although the second period did open up more than P1 had and more than in the third. But you’re not going to win on no goals.
In addition, Edmonton did it the way the story is supposed to play out. No fluky goals, no last-minute heroics. Just a goal and an assist for Connor McDavid and a shutout from their netminder on 29 shots.
The win does two things for Edmonton, who now go on to play the winner of Sunday’s Calgary-Dallas game. First of all, it shows that a defensive style of game does not necessarily put them out of contention. In the past, they’ve been all offense, and have done well in the regular season with the crowd-pleasing run-and-gun but not necessarily carried the success over to the more tightly contested style of the playoffs. (This, btw, is exactly what close to undid the Florida Panthers against Washington, though the Panthers also ultimately made it through Round One.)
Second, winning in this fashion allows for a belief that getting down in a series does not mean going out. The Oilers were behind in the series 3-2 despite a two crushing wins of 6-0 in game two and 8-2 in game three. They could have allowed this to defeat them mentally, especially since they had to win game six in LA even to get the series back to Edmonton for game seven. They did that in a more conservative fashion than their offensive outbursts of games two and three, taking that elimination game 4-2.
So now it was game seven. The goals, as noted, were only two. On the first, McDavid found Cody Ceci with the puck past halfway through the second period. He fired it up over Quick’s shoulder. The second goal was late in the third, and is described below.
Edmonton perhaps thought the game would be more offensive in style, as they dressed eleven forwards and seven D. The time on ice stats show that little-used forwards Zack Kassian and Jesse Pujujarvi had, respectively, about six and eight minutes of playing time.
McDavid? Oh, not much—just 27:23, with Draisaitl at 22:38!
The first period largely could be described by saying that the defense swallowed up play on both sides. McDavid had an early chance, on which Quick made an arm save. He was playing with the new combo of Evander Kane and Zach Hyman.
The crowd was subdued with five minutes gone, though they had been crazed before the game. Were they afraid that a tight defensive game would not yield Oilers’ success? The Kings, around the ten-minute mark, put on a push off the rush and had a couple of shots, one by defenseman Matt Roy, to test Smith.
The Oilers responded with about seven minutes to go, getting Quick all turned around in his net as he responded. The Kings then smothered play down for the remainder of period one aside from one rush by Josh Archibald. 0-0 end of one.
In the second period, the Oilers were blasting, outshooting the Kings 24-11 on the way to an overall 41-29 advantage. One good sequence came on the Edmonton power play, the only one by either team in the game, on a hook by Sean Durzi. Nugent-Hopkins could have scored on a rebound, but he took too long to get his shot away. Then there was a nice one-timer by Tyson Barrie that Quick saved.
Even after the man advantage, the pressure was all Oilers, with the Kings sitting back, as for instance in a quick jam play by Hyman from behind the Kings’ net. LA did put on some pressure to end the period. The Oilers’ 25 shots in one period is a franchise record. Scoring chances in the second were LA three, Edmonton 12. 1-0 Oilers.
Early in period three, Quick had to come up big when Archibald managed a breakaway by beating Durzi. That was around the one-minute mark. Quick somehow got the puck underneath him.
The Kings responded in the form of Arthur Kaliyev, who got the puck behind the Oilers’ net and threw it out front. Nobody was there for it, though, and it ended up being a turnover that went the other way.
At about 4:45, Kailer Yamamoto beat Quick but hit the post. Close calls that could have made a close game wider in spread, but look at those names: They’re not Draisaitl and McDavid. The offense exists in other parts of the Edmonton lineup, in other words, and can burst out even if the stars are throttled or injured, or just not scoring.
Kassian, in one of his limited appearances, threw the puck to the crease after Quick lost it, and it went off a leg or it might well have gone in. The puck was eventually iced. Then Hyman dangled and controlled and took the puck to the front. The Kings shot it down the ice once more.
Late in the third, McDavid stretched the lead at 16:07, taking a wrap-around try and getting his own rebound to score on his backhand.
The Kings’ perhaps most dangerous chance of the third was with Trevor Moore, Andreas Athanasiou, and Carl Grundstrom on the ice. They moved the puck around the zone, and Moore got off a dangerous shot.
Play concluded after a blown chance on a lazy offside by Yamamoto and the goal scored by McDavid. Well, not so fast. There was also a shot that Smith took off his right shoulder from Adrian Kempe and another on a wrister by Kaliyev, both with Quick off for the extra man. Down by two, McLellan pulled him with 2:54 to go. (And no, Patrick Roy did not invent that early pull—Andy Murray did. Ask any Kings’ fan.)
So in the end, as often happens, what was perhaps the better team won out in seven games. “Style makes fights” has been the cliché thrown around a lot about this series, but it was adaptability of styles that won this thing. The Oilers managed to shift styles, and even, you could say, play the style of their opponents in the most crucial game of the seven, and prevail.
Coach McLellan described his reactions after as, “Small picture/big picture. Small picture we’re disappointed. We—I—said on behalf of the group all along we were in this to win it. We weren’t just coming here to gain experience. And when you’re all in, and you want to win, and you don’t, it’s disappointing. A lot of water-filled eyes in there. Grown men that are feeling that way, and that’s because we were all in.”
On the other hand, he said that the organization came up with a plan four years ago to change the way the Kings play, change the identity of the group, and to bring in younger players, and “that was the positive throughout the year.” He did cite the injuries that the team had throughout the year as part of the difficulty that the team faced.
McLellan then went back to the small picture/big picture thing and said, “Big picture, some satisfaction. Tomorrow morning next year starts. And based on experience, that’s going to be one tough year.”
When asked if he had any regrets about failing to counter the Oilers (in a game that was, for two of three periods, played LA-style, after all), he responded, “I get asked that question every game, what could have you done, and sometimes it’s what the other team is doing. They played a hell of a game. They’re figuring some things out there.”
The Oilers will see if they have the ability to continue to adapt and thrive somewhere around the middle of the week, when Round Two gets underway.
Mike Smith had two shutouts in the series, and now owns six career playoff shutouts.
McLellan called Quick’s game, “An outstanding effort by him.” He said Quick was the reason the game stayed close.
The stars of the game were named as McDavid, Quick, and Smith. Hard to argue with any of those choices.
Dustin Brown has played his last NHL game officially now. He announced a few weeks back that he would complete the season and playoffs and then retire.
Brian Kennedy is a Member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and the author of several hockey books. He’s on twitter, occasionally, @growinguphockey.