The easy target to pinpoint why the Edmonton Oilers lost the opener of their Western Conference first-round series was the third period puck-handling mistake by goaltender Mike Smith.
Granted, Smith’s give-away directly led to the winning goal as the Los Angeles Kings claimed a 4-3 victory on Monday. However, the Oilers have plenty of other elements to focus on heading into Wednesday’s Game 2 in Edmonton.
“I don’t think we played poorly, but we didn’t play our best,” forward Zach Hyman said. “We’ll be a hungry group.”
The Kings were full marks for their victory. The visitors dominated the opening minutes, controlled the bulk of play at even strength — two of Edmonton’s three goals came on the power play — and were the better team through most of third period when the score was tied. The Oilers, who never held a lead, were unable to generate much of an attack until they fell behind.
“There’s obviously a lot of emotion with fans in the building, and excitement,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. “I thought we just didn’t handle it all that well. The Kings got the jump on us. I think we did a great job getting back in the game and gave ourselves a chance, but ultimately it came down to one bounce.”
That “bounce” was a big part of the result, but the key will be how the Oilers, and Smith, recover.
“You can’t do anything about it now, it’s over,” said Smith, who has lost 10 consecutive playoff starts. “It didn’t go the way we wanted, but it’s a long series and a long playoff if you want to get where we want to go. Nobody thought we’d win 16 straight, so it’s some adversity in the series, but it’s nothing we haven’t dealt with before.”
The Kings would dearly love to have a commanding lead when the best-of-seven affair moves to California after Wednesday’s game. Therefore, the quest is to keep pushing for more, even if they are the underdogs.
“We just kind of focus on what we’re doing,” said forward Trevor Moore, who scored once in a three-point game. “We believe in our group. We believe in our leadership and our coaching and just everything that we do. It’s fun for people to pick series, I’m happy they’re doing it … (but) I think we can win the series, yeah.”
The key will be to remain on the path that not only earned the Kings a surprising playoff spot, but a Game 1 victory — just be prepared for the Oilers to push harder.
Coach Todd McLellan will reiterate that point to the Kings, of whom eight skated in their first Stanley Cup playoff game in the opener.
“We’ve used the word identity a lot during the year and we played to that again,” McLellan said. “It’s what gives us a chance. We checked pretty well (on Monday), made some mistakes, went to the penalty box a bit too much for anyone’s liking … but for the most part we were able to check, got excellent goaltending, which we expected, and were opportunistic. We played in our skin.”
“We showed the character we’ve got,” added forward Phillip Danault, who scored the game-winning goal. “They came back in the game, but we stuck with it and we just got the job done. Everyone did his job. We did simple plays.”
–Field Level Media