LOS ANGELES — The Edmonton Oilers go home looking for their first lead in their playoff series with the Los Angeles Kings and surrounded by goaltending speculation.
Edmonton’s plucky comeback after an early, three-goal deficit and 5-4 overtime win in Game 4 evened the first-round, best-of-seven affair at two wins apiece heading back to Rogers Place for Tuesday’s Game 5.
“It feels better waking up with a win than a loss today,” Oilers defenceman Mattias Ekholm said Monday morning.
The swapping of starter Stuart Skinner for Jack Campbell after one period in Sunday’s Game 4 inevitably leads to guessing, however, on which goalie will and should start the pivotal Game 5.
Edmonton’s head coach was predictably noncommittal on that question Monday.
“I’m in a position to be able to choose from two great people,” Jay Woodcroft said. “Two goaltenders that have allowed us to win games this year. Our team won 50 games this year and both goaltenders contributed to those wins.
“When you have two great goaltenders, I don’t think you can go wrong picking either one of them. The best thing is the people we have around our team, there’s a lot of brains to pick.
“We want to use every brain in the game, gather some opinions and then we’ll make the right choice”
Skinner, who made his NHL playoff debut in this series, was the victim of some defensive breakdowns in front of him Sunday.
The 24-year-old was pulled after the first period in which the Kings scored three goals on 11 shots.
Jack Campbell in relief turned in 27 saves for the rest of regulation and overtime.
The Oilers had signed the 31-year-old veteran last summer as the presumptive starter this season, but Skinner supplanted him in the fall.
Campbell, who started his NHL career with the Kings, came up with the game-saving saves the Oilers needed to claw their way back into the contest, including a stop on an all-alone Viktor Arvidsson late in the third period.
“Really big,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. “Comes in a difficult spot and closes the door for us and give us a chance. That’s all you can ask from your goalie.
“I think of a few saves in the third when we were pushing to tie it up and he’s a brick wall back there. Without him, I’m not sure that comeback happens.”
Edmonton and Los Angeles were in an identical position in last year’s first-round series — tied 2-2 going back to Edmonton.
The Kings won 5-4 in OT, but the Oilers closed out that series with back-to-back wins to advance.
“Two different teams,” Woodcroft said. “Both have different personnel, but the bulk or core of both teams is the same. Is it an opportunity to grow? Yeah it is. We’re quite aware of the challenge before us. We feel up to it.”
Edmonton reached the Western Conference final in 2022 for its longest playoff run in 16 years, but was swept in four straight by the eventual champion Colorado Avalanche.
While Edmonton’s vaunted power-play continues its hot clip at 6-for-11 in the series, even-strength production had been lacking before the Oilers scored three five-on-five goals Sunday.
One reason for that in Game 4 was the Oilers taking a series-low two penalties.
When asked about his team’s improved discipline in Game 4, Woodcroft replied following the game “I thought it was a really well-officiated game.”
McDavid wasn’t all that pleased his team’s even-strength execution because the Oilers gave up two early to the Kings in a rocky opening period.
“I thought last night’s game was maybe our worse five-on-five out of this whole series,” he said. “To find yourself down three nothing after one is not a situation you want to be in very often. But we battled back, so credit to us.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2023.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press