Column: Adrian Kempe’s goal in OT lifts Kings to 3-2 series lead over Oilers
This was the Kings’ season in one game: exhilarating, infuriating and exhausting all within a matter of minutes.
They came up with timely scoring that boosted them and frustrated the Edmonton Oilers, followed by special-teams play that deflated them, including allowing the Oilers a second short-handed goal in five games. The Kings often were physical and more nearly resembled the hard-nosed identity they had established during the season but sometimes lapsed into confusion in their defensive zone — until a calm head in the midst of the chaos clinched the biggest win of their new era.
Winger Adrian Kempe, noting that the Oilers’ defense had been trapped in their zone for a while, drove to the net and switched from his backhand to his forehand and propelled the puck past goaltender Mike Smith 1 minute 12 seconds into sudden-death play to give the Kings an improbable 5-4 victory Tuesday night and put them in position to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs with a win Thursday night at Cryptom.com Arena. A seventh game, if necessary will be played back in Edmonton on Saturday.
“Caught them on their heels, a little tired,” Kempe said of his goal, which shocked the crowd at Rogers Place on the Kings’ second shot of overtime. “Going back to the third period, we were up 4-2 and they had some momentum going into the locker room. I think we’ve shown all year we have a great identity as a team.”
Yielding a short-handed goal and a power-play goal in the waning minutes of the third period, as the Kings gave up to Leon Draisaitl, could easily have deflated the Kings. Somehow, it didn’t.
“We’ve shown character throughout the year and learned a lot,” center Phillip Danault said. “Still learning.”
Before overtime, he said the Kings calmed down by imagining that if they’d been told before the series began that they’d be even in the series at 2-2 and about to play overtime, they surely would have been glad to be in that situation. “Just a great mentality we have,” he said.
With Sunday’s 4-0 win, the Kings not only matched the Oilers with two wins, they also took back control in the series.
The Kings had set a goal of making the playoffs this season as a means to prove to fans — and to themselves — that the organization has made progress in rebuilding after too many down years. By that definition, the Kings already had a successful season. As a bonus, their young players are getting playoff experience for future reference and valuable guidance from two-time Cup winner Dustin Brown, who will retire after the season.
But merely reaching the playoffs hasn’t satisfied their appetites. “Never enough,” Danault said. “We want to achieve some stuff, some good things. We believe we can. We believe we can be even better the next game.”
The Oilers have been under immense pressure to make a playoff run while Connor McDavid and Draisaitl are in their primes, but the team hasn’t gotten past the second round since its loss in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. They’re facing a moment of truth as they learn to handle adversity and prosperity and adjust to the frequent ups and downs of a playoff journey.
The Kings, meanwhile, benefitted from yet more sharp button-pushing decisions from coach Todd McLellan, who brought Andreas Athanasiou back into the lineup and was rewarded when the fleet winger scored the goal that put the Kings ahead 3-1.
The Kings silenced the crowd with an early first-period goal by defenseman Troy Stecher, his second goal in two games since he was brought into the lineup. Stecher, acquired from Detroit for depth purposes for the bargain price of a seventh-round draft pick, scored on Smith from the right circle at 3:53.
The Oilers finally broke through in the second period, on their sixth shot of the game, and it took a spectacular move by McDavid around the net to make the goal possible. Zack Kassian scored it, standing near the left post. That triggered a strong stretch for the Oilers, but Kempe ended that by scoring at 9:29, pulling the puck back and taking a shot that went underneath Smith’s leg pads.
Athanasiou, restored to the Kings’ lineup after being scratched for a game, extended their lead to 3-1 at 13:34 of the second period. Brown intercepted a clearing pass and showed great patience in finding Athanasiou near the left post. Athanasiou held the puck, drew Smith down and lifted it above the fallen goalie.
McDavid cut the Kings’ lead to 3-2 three seconds into a power play early in the third period, slicing a backhand above the fallen Jonathan Quick. Danault rebuilt a two-goal lead on the power play, but the Oilers responded with a short-handed goal by Draisaitl off a deflected pass to narrow it to 4-3. Draisaitl drove the crowd to a frenzy by tying it at 15:08, finishing off a great pass from McDavid with a quick shot from the right circle during a power play.
Kings coach Todd McLellan knows that the Kings’ 4-0 win in Game 4 against the Edmonton Oilers will mean nothing once the teams meet again in Game 5.
But then came Kempe’s definitive answer to close in on a ticket to the second round of the playoffs.
Playing more like the Kings had played during the season and in Game 4, solid in the defensive zone and physically punishing, he said, would be the keys to what comes next. He tried not to think about the tantalizing possibilities that are so close.
“There’s still a lot to play for. Obviously, we’re very excited,” he said. “Our confidence is good right now, but we’ve got to reset [Wednesday].”
Most important, they’ve reset themselves mentally to a new era, and it looked pretty good Tuesday.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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