LOS ANGELES — Kailer Yamamoto’s first goal of the playoffs was pivotal for the Edmonton Oilers.
His game-winner in the third period of Edmonton’s 5-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings helped the Oilers close out their first-round series in six games, and with a road victory.
The Oilers will meet the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round.
Yamamoto — described as the “little engine that could” by Edmonton head coach Jay Woodcroft — circled to the top of the faceoff circle and threw the puck through traffic into the top corner of the Kings’ net at 16:57.
“I got a great net front. I think there was like two or three bodies there. Just shot it and thankfully it went in,” said the 24-year-old Yamamoto.
His linemate Klim Kostin scored twice and assisted on Yamamoto’s winner. Oilers captain Connor McDavid scored his first even-strength goal of the series and also had an assist.
Leon Draisaitl generated his team-leading seventh playoff goal. Defencemen Evan Bouchard and Vincent Desharnais each had two assists.
Edmonton starter Stuart Skinner made a series-high 40 saves for the win, and was dealt bad luck in the third period.
His stick broke attempting to pass the puck up ice to Bouchard. Philip Danault pounced on the loose puck to score a short-handed equalizer for the Kings at 7:46.
“I just tried to hit Bouch with a nice, hard, crisp pass and just kind of snapped it on the bottom there,” Skinner said. “Free goal for that guy. That stuff happens. It’s about how you bounce back from that. It’s how you respond to moments like that.”
The goalie said he and McDavid had an amusing rehash of the incident in the dressing room post-game.
“He told me that next time I should check my stick,” Skinner said. “We had a little giggle and then we had a big hug there.”
Danault’s short-hander was the first of the series. Kevin Fiala scored a goal and two assists for the Kings, who also got goals from Sean Durzi and Adrian Kempe.
Joonas Korpisalo stopped 21 shots in the loss after he was pulled in the second period of Game 5 in Edmonton.
The Oilers needed a full seven games to beat the Kings in last year’s first round en route to the Western Conference final.
Edmonton was swept in four straight in the West final by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.
“Last year’s run to the third round whet everybody’s appetite for playing hockey in the month of June,” Woodcroft said. “We’ve learned some lessons along the way, too.
“We know we’re going to have our hands full with a very good Vegas Golden Knights team.”
This playoff edition of Oilers vs. Kings featured three overtime games, both goalies getting pulled in a game, comebacks and Skinner’s broken stick added even more drama.
“I don’t think anyone would have predicted swings quite like that,” McDavid said. “Three goals one period, the other team scores three the next. Two-goal leads getting erased pretty quick.”
So closing the series out in six, and not going to a nervy Game 7 in Edmonton, was preferable to the Oilers’ captain.
“Game seven you just never know what could happen,” McDavid said. “It’s a break here, a break there, a call here a call there, you’d like to avoid it at all costs. To get it done here is really big.”
The Oilers were the highest-scoring team in the regular season. They hit that pace again to beat the Kings in three straight games and take the series.
Since trailing 3-0 after the first period of Game 4 in Los Angeles, nine different Oilers have combined for 16 goals.
“A lot of people look at the Oilers and think it’s a two- or three-man team,” McDavid said. “It couldn’t be further from that at all.
“Up and down the lineup, we got contributions. Both goalies stepped up huge in the series. We had seven d-men play and a bunch of different forwards stepping up at crucial times. That’s what playoff hockey is all about. It’s a good sign for our group.”
The top power play in the NHL also remained potent in the first round at a blistering 9-for-16.
Woodcroft reuniting McDavid and Draisaitl on the same line in the third game seemed to kick-start Edmonton’s attack.
“I probably out of all the coaches that have coached them played them the least together, but I see why when they do play together it’s magic,” Woodcroft acknowledged.
“The versatility of being able to move them around makes us a better team, a harder team to defend and we were playing one of the best defensive teams in the league.”
Woodcroft said the five-foot-eight Yamamoto got a big cheer in the dressing room for his game-winner “because he’s the little engine that could. Playing in the National Hockey League at his size without having an unbelievable amount of determination and will … he stuck with it and eventually ended up scoring the series winner.”
The Kings were once again a post-season handful for the Oilers, but fell short of advancing.
“This team that we played two years in a row isn’t going anywhere,” Kings head coach Todd McLellan said. “They’re going to stay in our conference, our division.
“For us to move forward, to get to where we want to go, we’re probably going to have to play them again and again and again. We’re going to have to find ways to beat them.”
Notes: Draisaitl’s goal gave him 70 career playoff points in 43 games, which according to the NHL is the third fastest in NHL history behind Wayne Gretzky (29 games played) and Mario Lemieux (36). … Oilers forward Mattias Janmark hasn’t played since Game 1 when he took a shot off the foot, but the Swede participated in Saturday morning’s pre-game skate. … Bouchard extended his playoff point streak to six straight games (two goals, eight assists).
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2023.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press