LOS ANGELES – Slow starts are what plagued the Kings in Games 1 and 2. It was something that head coach Todd McLellan believed was a “poor recipe for taking a swing” at the Oilers. In front of the raucous Crypto.com crowd, the Kings surely didn’t want to start out slow again.
That wasn’t a problem for them as they easily killed off an early Phillip Danault tripping penalty before Quinton Byfield rang the post on a rush created by a chip pass out of the defensive zone by Vlad Gavrikov.
“We were better off in the first,” said McLellan after the game. “Fortunately for us, we were able to kill off a penalty a minute in. That I think gave us a little bit of confidence, a little bit of energy.”
Tensions rose when Darnell Nurse tripped up Viktor Arvidsson after play was blown dead, with Arvidsson heading to the locker room and Nurse being assessed a tripping penalty. Arvidsson’s stay in the locker room was brief and he wasn’t shy about throwing his body around once he got back out there.
Drew Doughty also had a brief trip to the locker room after being shoved into the boards by Evander Kane while on his knees. Kane was assessed a roughing minor for his actions while Doughty was given an interference minor on the play.
With the temperature rising on the ice, so too did the physicality. The Kings had 22 hits in the first period alone and it was clear that they wanted to establish their physical play. The insertion of Zack MacEwen on the fourth line in place of Arthur Kaliyev certainly said as much.
The Kings mixed up their bottom-6 lines, with Blake Lizotte ruled out with a lower-body injury. Gabe Vilardi, who returned from an injury of his own in Game 2, shifted from right wing to center the third line in place of Lizotte. Carl Grundstrom was elevated to the third line with Jaret Anderson-Dolan taking his place on the fourth line.
The Kings had not led through two games, winning in overtime in Game 1 and only managing to even the score in Game 2 before eventually falling 4-2. Their first lead of the series came with just 32.5 seconds remaining in the first period. A shot from the point by Matt Roy was batted down by Alex Iafallo and the winger followed up his own rebound, getting the faintest touch on his second try to flick the puck past a flailing Stuart Skinner.
That lead lasted all but eight minutes, with the Oilers doing their damage via their bread and butter––the power play. Blink once, goal. Blink twice, goal. Edmonton took the lead in a matter of minutes after seemingly consecutive penalties from MacEwen and Alex Edler. After being blanked in the goal column through the first two games, Connor McDavid made up for lost time by depositing two pucks past Joonas Korpisalo in similar fashion.
Unfortunately, for the Oilers, Leon Draisaitl would take an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the aftermath of the second McDavid goal and gave the Kings a power play opportunity of their own. They wasted no time at all evening the score. Arvidsson’s bank pass from his own zone off the boards fell right to Adrian Kempe, who hammered a one-timer past Skinner. The secondary assist on Kempe’s goal was credited to Doughty, who picked up his first playoff point in five years after missing last year’s series due to wrist surgery.
The Kings had a chance to take the lead with eight minutes left in the second after Arvidsson sniffed out a loose pass from the Oilers while they were entering the offensive zone. His 2-on-0 opportunity with Danault wasn’t converted though after a nice pad save from Skinner––and perhaps one pass too many.
Edmonton had a couple of opportunities of their own in the final minutes of the second, with both Cody Ceci and Kailer Yamamoto finding themselves in prime scoring positions. Both would fail to hit the target with their attempts.
Joonas Korpisalo was outstanding once again for the Kings, stopping 38 shots. “I think his play gets overlooked,” said captain Anze Kopitar. “He’s very solid (and) obviously a really good goaltender. He gives us a chance every night. Even with some of the (slow) starts and some of the lapses in the game that we have, he was there (for us) in all three games and he made the saves that he needed to make to keep us in the game. He’s been phenomenal for us.”
This game went to overtime after neither team was able to get the go-ahead goal in the third and LA didn’t waste any time in grabbing the overtime winner, with Trevor Moore beating Skinner off the far side post three minutes into overtime to give the Kings a 2-1 series lead. For Moore, who grew up a Kings fan, it was a surreal moment.
“It was awesome,” said Moore. “Super fun to play in that building. That energy was like nothing else. It was special.” He became the fourth California-born player in NHL history to score a playoff overtime goal, joining Brooks Orpik, Auston Matthews and Jason Zucker.
In fact, it might have taken longer for the officials to review the play following the goal than it took the Kings to score as the league officials reviewed whether or not Gabe Vilardi played the puck with a high stick prior to his setup for Moore. In the end, it was deemed a good goal. One that sent the home crowd home happy and one that put the Kings in the driver’s seat.