EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers have the upper hand in their playoff series with the Los Angeles Kings.
If the Oilers can keep it, the chance to close it out Saturday in Los Angeles is there.
A commanding 6-3 win over the visiting Kings in Tuesday’s Game 5 at Rogers Place gave Edmonton its first lead of the best-of-seven, first-round series.
A Game 7, if necessary, would be played Monday in Edmonton.
A three-day break between the fifth and sixth games afforded both teams a day of rest Wednesday.
Three of five games in the series going to overtime had added an extra 23 minutes to their workloads.
“Today’s order of business was just to kind of refill the tank a little bit and build up that energy reservoir,” Edmonton head coach Jay Woodcroft said Wednesday morning.
“The schedule is what the schedule is. One team is going to handle it better. It’s our aspiration to be the team that handles it better.
“There’s positives to this schedule. The first thing is it allows you to refill the cup. It allows you to nurse bumps and bruises, but the other team gets that opportunity as well. It’s who handles it better.”
When the Oilers faced the Kings in last year’s first round, Edmonton losing Game 5 at home required back-to-back wins to avoid elimination and advance.
The Oilers may have earned more wiggle room this time, but the Kings aren’t expected to go quietly Saturday in their own barn where their winning percentage was .683 this season.
“We can’t get too high on ourselves,” Oilers forward Nick Bjugstad said after Game 5. “That squad is good over there. They’ve shown they’re pretty resilient too.
“We got three days here to kind of think about what we did well. You’ve got to have a short memory if you lose and I think it’s the same if you win. You’ve just got to have a new-day mentality. Be good at practice and getting good sleep, good rest here.
“Guys have been playing a lot, a lot of minutes so will be good to get a little rest and come in with some energy in L.A.”
Edmonton was the NHL’s highest-scoring team in the regular season at a clip of almost four goals per game.
The Kings’ savvy, heavy and hostile playoff style dampened the Oilers’ output early in the series, but Edmonton appears to be adjusting with more secondary and even-strength production in its last two games.
The Oilers have scored 11 goals over their last five periods and 10 minutes of overtime, after they fell behind 3-0 in the first period of Game 4.
Bjugstad with a pair of goals Tuesday, Evander Kane and Zach Hyman are chipping in to complement the offence led by Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and defenceman Evan Bouchard.
With his size, agility and laser shot, Draisaitl has been the toughest Oiler for the Kings to contain from the outset. His six goals led the NHL post-season Wednesday.
Kings goalie Joonas Korpisalo made saves he shouldn’t in the series’ first four games, but looked mortal in Game 5 when he was replaced by Pheonix Copley in the second period.
“Our team has been preparing for a very difficult first round, whoever the opponent was going to be. We tried to use the 82-game schedule to set us up, to prepare ourselves,” Woodcroft said.
“There’s still lots of work to be done here. We have a huge challenge. If you start looking at this series, we felt we’ve done a lot of really good things, but it’s a tight series. The other team does good things too.”
The Oilers have certainly leaned on their league-No. 1 power play.
At 8-for-14, no other team’s post-season power play comes close to Edmonton’s 57 per cent success driven by McDavid and Bouchard.
While McDavid has yet to notch an even-strength goal, the NHL’s leading scorer has drawn penalties with his speed and fuelled the power play with his playmaking skills.
Bitten twice in the series by Kings’ power-play goals in overtime, Edmonton’s time in the box has dwindled from six minors in the first game to a single penalty in Game 5.
Starting goaltender Stuart Skinner has packed a lot of living into the first playoff series of his career.
The 24-year-old rookie has experienced overtime losses, his first win, getting pulled in Game 4 and coming back with a 25-save win in Game 5.
Jack Campbell was a difference-maker in Edmonton pulling Game 4 out of the ditch.
The Oilers reached the Western Conference final last year for their longest playoff run in 16 years.
Edmonton was swept in four straight by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche in that conference final.
Getting the first round done in six games, instead of seven, would be an investment in another long post-season drive.
“We use this theme of we’re going to continue to hammer on the rock until it splits,” Woodcroft said. “It hasn’t yet, but we’re looking for that fourth win. “
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2023.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press