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Oilers’ offence rises to the occasion in first-round series win over Kings

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings were a tough playoff out for the Edmonton Oilers a second straight year, but the latter dispatched the Kings one game quicker this time.

Taking six games instead of seven was significant given Edmonton’s next opponent, the Vegas Golden Knights, ousted the Winnipeg Jets even faster in five.

It’s been said Game 4 is the hardest to win in a playoff series, and the Oilers did that the hard way.

Trailing 3-0 after a period, and with starting goaltender Stuart Skinner yanked, the Oilers pulling out a 5-4 overtime win to even the series and going home to Edmonton for the fifth game was the turning point.

It was the first of three straight Edmonton wins to close out the series.

“Those are the wins that, yeah, they’re one win in the column, but they’re also so huge, the momentum swing in a series, the momentum for the guys, the way you feel going out for the next game,” Oilers defenceman Mattias Ekholm said.

A look at five Oilers keys in the series win over the Kings:

POWER PLAY: The NHL’s top-scoring team sputtered at even-strength to start the series. The league’s No. 1 power play rode to the rescue a few times in the series going 9-for-16 overall for a 56.3 per cent success rate. Two power-play goals in the second period kick-started Edmonton’s Game 4 comeback.

EVAN BOUCHARD: The 23-year-old defenceman took over quarterbacking the aforementioned power play after Tyson Barrie’s trade to Nashville for Ekholm. Bouchard’s eight power-play points (two goals, six assists) tied the NHL record for the most by a defenceman in a playoff series alongside Denis Potvin, John Carlson and Paul Coffey.

LEON DRAISAITL: A healthy Draisaitl — he sustained a high ankle sprain in Game 6 against L.A. last year — is a dominating Draisaitl. When he and McDavid were separated to start the series, the Kings had some success containing the Oilers captain at even-strength, but didn’t have an answer for Draisaitl. The German centre produced at a clip of 1.83 points per game, and his seven goals topped the NHL entering Sunday.

“Big-time players show up in big games,” Draisaitl said before Game 6. “I really, really pride myself on that. That’s really important to me.

“I try to do it every night. Some nights it works. Some nights you’re missing something, but I definitely go in with the same mindset every night.”

CHAIN REACTION: Reuniting Draisaitl and McDavid on a line alongside Evander Kane didn’t immediately bear fruit in a 3-2 OT loss in Game 3, but that trio put hard miles on the Kings’ defence. A McDavid-to-Draisaitl even-strength goal in the second period of Game 4 accelerated the comeback, and seemed a catalyst for the secondary scoring that came after. Nine different Oilers scored 16 goals after that period.

“When you can put two guys together that have played together a long time and add in a guy like Evander, who has played in really big games and proved he can play well and score and score big goals, and he proved that again this series, it’s a good line,” McDavid said. “It’s something they have to think about for sure.

“The rest of our group was amazing.”

BEND DON’T BREAK: Losing two of the first three games on power-play overtime goals to trail 2-1 could have sent a more fragile team into a tailspin. Edmonton’s run to the Western Conference final last year, its longest playoff drive in 16 years, matured this edition for the 2023 post-season.

“We have an understanding that it’s not always going to be smooth sailing,” Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said. “It’s OK that there’s some drama in the story.”

This story by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2023.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press