LOS ANGELES — The problem for the Los Angeles Kings on Friday wasn’t that they kept the arena lights off as long as possible before the Edmonton Oilers’ morning skate session, but that they turned them on for the game.
The stage lit up and the Crypto.com arena crackled for Los Angeles’ first Stanley Cup playoff game in more than four years. The Kings weren’t ready when the lights came on. Showtime belonged to the Oilers, who scored twice in the first six minutes and embarrassed Los Angeles 8-2 to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round series.
Edmonton’s advantage feels bigger than a game.
Including Wednesday’s 6-0 win over the Kings in Edmonton, the Oilers have two touchdowns in two games and won by a dozen goals overall. And Connor McDavid has just one of Edmonton’s 17 goals in the streak. Think about it for a minute. Sixteen goals were scored by fellow Oilers.
On Friday, Evander Kane had a hat-trick and Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins each scored twice. The Oilers were chasing Kings starter Jonathan Quick midway through the second half, and Edmonton starter Mike Smith has been near perfect since his third-half giveaway in Game 1 allowed Los Angeles to win 4-3.
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The teams are on different paths. Game 4 is Sunday.
“I don’t really believe in transferring momentum,” said Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft. “I think you have to rethink things. We expected a push from them. Lots of shots at the net from all angles of course and all that stuff but I thought we showed some stamina and perseverance and some patience with our game and struck when the time was right.
“I sense a real esprit de corps in our group – people who work hard for each other. It’s a fun group to stand behind tonight.”
Yes, these Oilers could finally be different from the teams that largely squandered McDavid’s first six seasons while winning just one playoff series. Certainly no Edmonton coach has used “esprit de corps” to describe his team.
“It takes everyone,” McDavid said simply when asked for input from across the lineup.
“Just finding ways to win games, that’s all that matters at this time of year,” he said. “No matter what it looks like or what happens. I think we did a good job, played well, played hard, we were physically strong. They kind of pushed back today and I thought we reacted well.
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Seven seasons and nearly 700 points since McDavid’s reign, the Oilers are trying to win their second playoff series since 2006. Of course, that brought a lot of ballast with it. The weight gets heavier every time the Oilers lose a series. Sometimes it feels like the strain of the game is increasing, like when they lost the opening game on Monday.
But the funny thing about luggage is that everyone has something from somewhere. Happy are the few who are not burdened by disappointments and failed expectations. The Kings don’t carry trunks on their backs like McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but their fanny packs may feel heavy.
As an organization, the Kings have not won a playoff game on home ice since winning the Stanley Cup against the New York Rangers in 2014. This remarkable performance came with some free passes. Ask fans in Toronto and Vancouver how much suffering a Stanley Cup triumph would be worth.
To be fair to the Kings, a younger team that grew out of their rebuild and returned to the playoffs maybe a season or two earlier than projected, they don’t have the pressure or expectations that the Oilers face to soon to win.
But the Kings lost all three home playoff games in 2016 in a 4-1 loss in the inaugural series to the San Jose Sharks and went 2-0 at the then Staples Center while being defeated by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2018. Friday was playoff hockey’s return to Los Angeles.
And a Kings team that was trying to learn how to win, largely remade but with a few key holdovers from more prosperous days, was embarrassed by the Oilers for the second straight game. Edmonton led 5-0 halfway through the third game.
Perhaps, clearly at the direction of the Kings, arena staff shouldn’t have darkened Crypto.com and not hidden the nets when the Oilers came out for morning skating a few minutes before their official 11:30 a.m. starting time on Friday. The Kings take skates in the morning at their practice facility in El Segundo near LAX airport, and it’s common for visiting NHL teams to hit the ice early when it’s not being used by the home team.
Maybe the kings in El Segundo lost their watch. An additional 15 minutes of skating and drilling might have burned a little more Oilers energy. Instead, Edmonton jumped to LA at the start.
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McDavid and Draisaitl ran four-on-four, thanks in no small part to the Kings’ Brendan Lemieux, who has the same respect for opponents as his father, a perfect two-on-one to make it 1-0 at 3:50.
When Trevor Moore executed a stick-holding penalty at 5:46, the Oilers’ deadly power play took just 23 seconds to make it 2-0. McDavid played another brilliant pass from the goal side for Hyman to tap behind Quick.
Smith processed 19 shots in the first half — the Kings shot from everywhere but created few good chances — but the Oilers ended the fight before the game was 30 minutes old. Kane grabbed two rebound goals in three and a half minutes after a great solo effort from Hyman to make it 5-0 early in the second period.
And after goals later as part of Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault at least got the LA crowd back in the game, the Oilers pumped in three more late in the third game, two from Nugent-Hopkins and a third from Kane.
“Any time you can get into someone’s building and attack them, I think that’s great,” McDavid said. “We succeeded. But I thought they had a great first period, honestly. We made some good games and kind of lasted in the first one and I thought our game started early there in the second.
Woodcroft said he expects the Kings to play their best in Game 3 after losing heavily on Wednesday.
“And we were prepared for that,” he said. “I figured we would take the opportunities that presented themselves surgically. I thought they ran around a bit to try to get in touch with us physically. We handled it with good composure. We made more plays than they did and we ended up winning tonight.
“What I enjoy the most as a coach is seeing all the people in our lineup contribute and bring that kind of effort and intensity. Because it was quite noticeable.”