LOS ANGELES – The Kings’ season has come to a close. In a similar fashion to last season, they fell victim to Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers. Where last season saw them take the Oil to seven games, only six would be needed this time around.
Looking to bounce back from Tuesday’s 6-3 loss in Edmonton, the Kings returned home wanting to mimic the fast start they got off to in Game 4. That wouldn’t be the case here as McDavid put the Oilers ahead just 1:25 into the game, a deft deflection off a shot-pass from Evan Bouchard. Like the majority of the games in this series, this one too felt like a game of cat-and-mouse, with no lead safe for even a moment.
It was a big night for Kevin Fiala, who had a goal and two primary assists. After missing the first three games of the series with a lower-body injury, he returned in Game 4 and had two primary assists. The reason the Kings acquired him from the Minnesota Wild last summer was for performances exactly like these.
On the other end matching Fiala was Klim Kostin, who had two goals and the secondary assist on Kailer Yamamoto’s game-winning goal with 3:03 remaining in the third period. “Thank goodness it went in,” said Yamamoto, the game-winner being his first goal of the series. He and Kostin combined for five points on the night.
Although another series loss to Edmonton is frustrating, it’s a position that the Kings put themselves in. A late-season slump in April took them from second in the division to third and almost dropped them all the way into the first Wild Card spot. This came after a 12-game point streak in the month of March.
This lack of consistency is what plagued the Kings throughout the series and it’s something that head coach Todd McClellan touched on in his post-game press conference: “I could give different names every night (for who played well) and that’s probably why we didn’t win. As guys took it up, they kind of fell off a little bit.”
“We have players obviously that we’re disappointed in, that had better playoff series last year than they did this year and that can be young and old,” continued McClellan. “We have to look at why and how and decide whether those individuals are going to be able to adjust to play at this time of the year, but that’s what good teams do. That’s what good organizations do. They evaluate everything. Coaches need to be evaluated, players need to (be evaluated). We’ll do that as an organization and we’ll come out at the backend better.”
As far as players who did play well over the stretch of the series, Adrian Kempe continued to prove that last season’s performance was no fluke. Becoming the first 40-goal scorer in franchise history since 1993-94, Kempe had five goals and eight points in the series––leading the team in both totals.
The Kings have several important decisions to make ahead of free agency this summer, most notably regarding the impending free agent statuses of Joonas Korpisalo and Vlad Gavrikov. Both players were acquired from Columbus in the deal that sent Jonathan Quick to the Blue Jackets and both players immediately strengthened the team. Gavrikov added a dependable, left-handed shutdown option behind Mikey Anderson and Korpisalo was an upgrade in net over Quick.
The strong play of Gavrikov into the playoffs may perhaps price him out of the Kings’ preferred range, but he is a player that they might not be able to afford to lose. Korpisalo played well in the first few games of the series but looked like a different player in the last few games of the series. His return may depend on how comfortable the Kings feel going with a tandem of Pheonix Copley and Erik Portillo, who signed an ELC with the Kings earlier this month.
A 100-plus point season––their first since 2015-16––is nothing to scoff at, especially after the Kings just barely missed out on reaching that mark last season. But, just like that 2015-16 season, it ended with a loss in the first round. The Oilers are a formidable opponent and McClellan alluded to the fact that those Oilers aren’t going anywhere.
“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 and we’re going to have to find ways to beat them.”
In order to achieve that goal of winning the Cup again, the Kings will likely have to get past the Oilers at some point. Currently, they’re not at that stage.