Someone had to lose, and really who lost with the Kings going down to defeat on Thursday night? Not the fans of the game, who get a game seven. That Kings’ fans would probably rather not enjoy that distinction is perhaps to be considered. But look at it this way: they can go up to Edmonton, win game seven, and all’s good. From the Oilers’ fans’ POV, they get to welcome their team home and cheer them on to their best effort on Saturday night. Win-win! Or win-lose. Or lose-win. Well, you get the idea. Viva Super Seven Saturday!
So how’d it happen? Well, cliché alert number one: the Oilers’ best players were their best players. Connor McDavid wasted no time, getting Edmonton on the board at 1:40 of period one. The assists? Kane and Cody Ceci. Kane and McDavid would end the night with three points each.
The Oilers also got fast starts in both periods one and two. The second period was 1:50 old when Evander Kane scored to make the game 2-0 for Edmonton.
They also avoided a bad-luck break. After the second Edmonton goal, what would have been the Oilers’ third goal was disallowed. This was four minutes after Kane’s 2-0 goal. That might have figured big had they not been able to go ahead late in period three after two Kings’ goals tied the game.
They also overcame the lack of towering defenseman Darnell Nurse, suspended for a game for a head butt in the prior contest. In his place, a team effort kept the Kings’ best players from dominating. Their points (LA’s), came from Sean Durzi and Carl Grundstrom getting the goals and Kempe, Kopitar, Roy, and Anderson supplying assists.
The Oilers also made up for a relative lack of discipline, the team having taken four penalties over the course of the night to LA’s single minor. One of the Kings’ goals, the first, was scored on the power play. Not that four minor penalties is a tragedy, the point is to note that the Kings were, by contrast, hardly penalized at all.
They outshot the Kings. It was not a huge disparity, 37-32 in Edmonton’s favor, but the Kings often outshoot their opponents, so having outdone the home team is perhaps more significant than it might otherwise be, and perhaps plays into the earlier point about the relative success the Oilers had on defense.
They won the faceoff battle, hard to do with Phillip Danault on the other side. The percentage was 54-46%, which doesn’t sound like much, but in real terms, it turned into six more wins, or, in territorial terms, six times when Edmonton started out with the puck, and thus six times that the Kings were chasing.
So that formula having worked, a disappointed LA crowd saw the Oilers salt it away with an empty net goal with a minute to play, and then it was plans for a trip North happening on both sides.
Tod McLellan said after, “Well, they’re a pretty good hockey club. . . . I thought they got to a level that they weren’t at in Edmonton. I thought we responded during the night; this reminded me of Game One, pretty even throughout the night. There wasn’t anything lopsided.”
Then he went metaphorical: “Our quarterback-receiver connection wasn’t where it needed to be. It was erratic. Obviously when we went to pass the pass wasn’t real clean, and the receiver wasn’t handling the puck real well.” You might recall that the coach said a couple of games ago (the 8-2 loss) that the whole thing was predicated on the Kings’ lack of execution in the passing game. He mentioned that in his comments on Thursday again, telling the gathered group of reporters that when the team does not pass the puck well, their offense is not strong.
Both McLellan and team captain Anze Kopitar trotted out the old saw to say a version of, “If you would’ve told us we’d be in this position with a one-game play-in, we’d have taken it.” The Coach did add, “We’re not particularly happy how we got to [that one game] tonight, but there’s nothing we can do about that now, so let’s look ahead. We’ve won there before, and we can win there again.”
It remains to see which Kings team, and which Oilers team for that matter, shows up on the day of the three great game sevens, Super Seven Saturday, May 14th. That’s tomorrow, so only one sleep away.
Connor McDavid played 24:02, leading everyone on his team, including all the defensemen. Three Oilers played under five minutes, so it was full speed ahead and use the talent up if you had to. Obviously, it worked.
Neither Mike Smith for Edmonton nor Jonathan Quick for LA looked particularly stellar in the nets. Quick seemed disappointed with the second goal, a Kane deflection. Smith allowed goals one and two to go right past him, though with a fair screen on the first, by Durzi from up high.
To be fair, each goalie made a great save in turn with the score tied 2-2 in the third period. But then Quick let in a long shot to the far side of the net that would stand as the winner. He looked to be a little bit off his angle, though he was out to challenge.
Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. He wrote Growing Up Hockey and several other hockey-related titles. Follow him on twitter @growinguphockey.