Friday night in LA, the two big guns of Edmonton cranked it up, got their team off to a fast start, and watched while mid-tier players took over the show and cruised to an 8-2 victory. After the game, the Kings, to a player, were saying what their coach had likely said to them in his post-game pick-me-up, a version of, “Don’t care about the score. The only stat that matters is that the series is 2-1.”
Sunday night, still in Los Angeles, the stars for the Oilers didn’t get started. Instead, the show was an inserted defenseman (Troy Stecher) in period one and an excellent goaltending performance (Jonathan Quick) in period three. That and some help from the Kings’ depth plus a shutdown game by their two great defensive centers (obviously Kopitar and Danault) meant that indeed, the only stat that mattered, once more, was that of the series: all knotted at twos.
The game started out with the teams trading shots off their opposite number’s goalpost, Lizotte for LA, Kassian for the Oilers. Then it settled in and the Kings scored, Trevor Moore doing his magic on a play that came out of the corner. The first period later featured a four-on-four on which the Oilers’ coach had both McDavid and Draisaitl out together. They did not produce, but Stecher did, a goal to make it 2-0 with six minutes to play in the first. This period ended with two more exciting plays. On the first, Iafallo went down the right side and zinged a shot off the far-side post. Then Kulak forced Quick to make a save off a shot from the low slot.
It was the most exciting period of the series so far, to my eyes.
The second featured no scoring, but once again, as they’ve done earlier in the playoffs, players like Dustin Brown and Blake Lizotte were visible. So was Trevor Moore who traded assists-on-goals with Grundstrom on tally one and three. Grundstrom would end the night scoring the only two remaining goals, both in the third period.
To say it another way, if you count your depth as Moore, Lizotte, and Grundstrom, you would account for six of the 11 points put on the board this game.
But then there’s Stecher. He had a goal (LA’s second) and an assist (on LA’s fourth) in his playoff-season debut. Who is he?
He’s been with Vancouver, Detroit, and now LA. He came over from Detroit for a seventh-round pick this spring, a depth pickup if ever there was one, though a defenseman of the coveted right-shot variety. He has 17 games of prior playoff experience, all with Vancouver in the 2019-20 season. He is 28, though don’t look at his hockeydb picture to confirm that—there he looks like a kid.
So period two went by the way, the Kings’ Kopitar taking a penalty defending McDavid, and the Oilers producing absolutely nothing on the chance. This, if anything, was a microcosm of their night—out of synch, listless, with no shots on goal at the seven-minute mark despite having had the man advantage.
They got it cranked up in period three, only to see Jonathan Quick emerge from his slumber of Friday (actually, if you read my story from that night, it was not his fault, the loss).
In that final period, the Oilers had a power play on which Hyman charged from behind the net to the front. The puck came low to Nugent-Hopkins, but he missed the net. Bouchard had a dangerous shot on which Quick made a nice glove save. The Oilers had suddenly found the movement of the puck on the PP. But, ah, well, Quick.
The latter part of the game was a bit chippy and scrummy, and the Oilers challenged the third goal for goaltender interference and lost. Grundstrom had slid into Mike Smith on the way to putting the puck in. The Oilers took a delay-of-game penalty on that one, and that made for a tough last five minutes in terms of getting the game back. They allowed the final goal into the empty net.
A short memory of their performance on Friday night served the Kings well. Jonathan Quick did also, and a guy called Stecher.
Their coach, Todd McLellan, said after, “We played better tonight, to a man. It obviously wasn’t 100%, it was only like five percent better per player, but we did some of the things we needed to do to win the game. We hadn’t been doing that since game one.”
Quick was, as he is, brief. When asked inserted players, he said, “Whatever happens, guys jump in. It’s next man up mentality, and they did that well tonight.” When asked about the meaning of the game given the prior two losses, he said, “We’ve played a lot of good games. Just because the last two didn’t go our way, you know, we’ve played a lot of games like that.”
He summarized his role: “You just see the puck. You try to get something in front of it. That’s it. Same thing you do every game, every single game for the past fifteen years. Nothing different.”
The team hopes he keeps the roll going on the way up to Alberta.
The teams go again Tuesday, 7pm California time.
Brian Kennedy is a Member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.