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Elliott: Kings seeking a finishing kick against Oilers after falling in Game 6

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Los Angeles, California May 12, 2022-Kings Olli Maatta defends against Oilers Zach Hyman as goalie Jonathan Quick makes a save in the second period in game six of the first round playoffs at Crypto.com Arena Thursday.  (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Kings’ Olli Maatta defends against Edmonton Oilers’ Zach Hyman as goalie Jonathan Quick makes a save in the second period in Game 6 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at Crypto.com Arena on Thursday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Maybe they couldn’t handle prosperity because it had been so long since so many members of the Kings had known what it felt like to be in position to close out a Stanley Cup playoff series. Others had never felt it at all.

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But the Kings, after showing more of the resilience that has become their trademark and pulling even in the third period of a game the Edmonton Oilers seemed to control on Thursday, couldn’t finish the deal. Their 4-2 losses at Crypto.com Arena sends the series back to Rogers Place on Saturday for a decisive Game 7, with the winner to advance to the second round of the playoffs against the winner of the Calgary-Dallas series.

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“Maybe the thought of ending the series kind of creeped into our mind and we started off a little tentative,” Kings captain Anze Kopitar said. “Credit to them.

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“If you told us that we got to win one game to advance we would take the opportunity. It’s not all that bad.”

No, it’s not. But they could have ended it at home, could have had time off while Calgary and Dallas battle it out and settle a series that Calgary leads 3-2. They’ve won two of the first three games they’ve played in Edmonton. “We’ve won there before. We can win again,” coach Todd McLellan said.

But this feels like they’re tempting fate once too often. They’ve had a small margin for error all along and it’s smaller now. “We’ve got to stay as positive as we can,” defenseman Matt Roy said. “It’s a one-game series.”

Edmonton had built a 2-0 lead on a wraparound by Connor McDavid one minute and 40 seconds into the game and a deflection by Evander Kane 1:50 into the second period, but the Kings, true to the identity they’ve built this season , pushed back on a power-play goal by Sean Durzi late in the second period and Carl Grundstrom’s finish of a fine feed from Roy 29 seconds into the third period.

But McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, stacked on one line for much of the game, worked their magic to set up Tyson Barrie for the winner at 14:50 of the third period. Kane added an insurance goal into an empty net.

That created the possibility Kings forward Dustin Brown – who will retire after the season – has played his last home game for the team he leads in many career categories. “No one wants to head back there when we could have won at home, but it is what it is,” Roy said.

Rebuilding a team goes beyond filling roster spots, well past finding right-handed-shooting defensemen to pair with left-handed shooters and acquiring role players who fit in alongside the franchise’s foundations.

When all goes right – and that’s rarely swift or sure – a rebuilt team naturally develops and rallies around an identity. Players live it, take pride in it. After struggling to end the decline that followed their two Stanley Cup championships the Kings have used their first postseason journey since 2018 to create a new identity, one they believe can define them for years to come.

Kings'  Olli Maatta and Edmonton Oilers'  Evander Kane push each other.
Kings’ Olli Maatta and Edmonton Oilers’ Evander Kane push each other at the end of a play in the second period in Game 6 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at Crypto.com Arena on Thursday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Their resilience served them well as they progressed deep into their first-round playoff series against Edmonton, allowing them to bounce back from two potentially deflating six-goal losses that gave the Oilers the lead three games in. Their pluck, the acrobatic goaltending of Jonathan Quick, and McLellan’s smart lineup maneuvers allowed them to come home with a chance to advance, a hope the Oilers dashed.

The Kings will come out ahead in some ways no matter the outcome of this series. They’ve discovered what they have strategically and in terms of character, what they still need – depth up front and size on defense – and how much even an average power play and average penalty killing could make them a Cup threat. They’ve had no pressure.

Not so for the Oilers, who were heavy favorites. Edmonton revolves around superstars but hasn’t been able to complete what should be the easier phase of assembling a team: finding reliable goaltending and a solid supporting cast. The NHL announced Thursday that McDavid is a finalist for the Hart Trophy as most valuable player, an award he has won twice. But since he was drafted No. 1 in 2015 the Oilers have one won playoff series, in 2017. Fans and media are restless.

McLellan, who coached the Oilers from 2015-16 through the first 20 games of 2018-19, knows the duress the Oilers face.

“Maybe I’m the only one that can speak to this because I’ve lived their bench and now I’m living our bench. It’s completely different,” he said. “Our pressure is what we put on ourselves. Their pressure is, it’s enormous throughout Oil Country and Canada and the superstars and the media pressure and where they’ve been and what they want to do. A lot of people that have followed this series have used [the term] house money, and we don’t see it that way. But it also creates a different set of pressure points for each organization, I believe.”

The pressure they’ll face on Saturday is new to most of them, and new to all of them as a group. “Just be a little more resilient,” Kopitar said when asked what they must do better to win on Saturday.

They’ve shown plenty of resilience so far, but they now need to pair that with a near-perfect performance. It’s another lesson to be learned on the fly, to become part of their growing identity, whether that fully blossoms this season or in the short-term future.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.



Source: sports.yahoo.com

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