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Gritty Kings back in L.A. with Oilers’ stars on the brink

Sportsnaut
May 10, 2022; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe (9) scores the over-time winning gaol against Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) in game five of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Lacking the massive star power of their opponent, the Los Angeles Kings went into their Western Conference opening-round series with the Edmonton Oilers as decided underdogs.

A resilient approach now has the Kings heading into Thursday’s home clash against their Pacific Division rival with the opportunity to advance to the next round.

After Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime victory at Edmonton, the Kings have a 3-2 series lead and an opportunity to close out the best-of-seven matchup in their own building.

“We don’t want to be that team that just goes to the playoffs, loses in four and goes on vacation. We want to achieve some stuff, do some good things, be proud of ourselves,” Kings forward Phillip Danault said. “We believe in ourselves and that we can do some damage. It was good the last two games and we want to be even better next game.”

In NHL history, teams that win Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead have an all-time record of 219-58 (.791) in best-of-seven series. Road teams that won Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead have an 82-25 mark (.764).

The odds are now in the Kings’ favor, which has been no small feat considering they lost the second and third games of the series by a combined score of 14-2. Los Angeles responded with a 4-0 home win before taking a 4-2 lead midway through the third period of Tuesday’s clash. But they watched it disappear before Adrian Kempe scored 72 seconds into overtime.

“We need to get better, not keep doing what we’re doing,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “It’s got to go up in some areas. We have to clean some things up. These last two games that we’ve played won’t be good enough in Game 6, so we’ll have to find a way to be better.”

The Oilers handily finished second in the Pacific Division but are in danger of being upset for a third consecutive playoffs. It’s not what was expected from a team led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

“You never like to lose, but we have seven games for a reason,” McDavid said. “We need to win one on the road and bring it back to Edmonton.”

A better start is an important place to begin. So far, the Oilers have been outscored by a combined 5-3 count in the first period and been out-shot by an 85-47 margin.

“The answer lies in our room,” Draisaitl said of the team’s early struggles. “We have to come out a little harder. We have to come out with our skating legs underneath us. We haven’t had that the last couple games, not any games really in this series.”

Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft will have to ensure his players only focus on winning Game 6 and not stressing about the need to claim two consecutive victories.

“Our mindset heading down to L.A. is we’re trying to win one game,” Woodcroft said.

“They’re going to try to close us out and the pressure is on them as the home team. For us, our job is to find a way to have a good start to the first period and find a way to win one game.”

The Oilers knew once the winning goal was scored in Game 5 that they were facing adversity, and their task became even more difficult on Wednesday when top defenseman Darnell Nurse was handed a one-game suspension for head butting Danault in Game 5.

Nurse, who leads Edmonton in ice time with 21:45 per game, has collected one goal and one assist, along with a plus-5 rating.

–Field Level Media