LOS ANGELES (AP) – Connor McDavid has stood on this precipice several times before, and he does not care for the view.
The Edmonton Oilers are one loss away from their third consecutive opening-round playoff exit after back-to-back losses to the upstart Kings. Los Angeles is one of four NHL teams carrying a 3-2 series lead into Thursday night — along with Toronto, St. Louis and Carolina – with a chance to advance in Game 6 on what should be a thrilling evening of postseason hockey.
Edmonton was widely favored to claim McDavid’s second-ever postseason series victory and the underachieving Oilers’ first playoff advance in five years. Instead, the Oilers are facing elimination yet again by a rebuilding opponent with a fraction of their top-end talent, but remarkable heart.
McDavid’s frustration is clear, yet he also knows the Oilers are only on the brink in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday night (10 pm EDT, TBS) because of a poor defensive shift to start overtime in Game 5 on Tuesday. Edmonton roared back from a third-period deficit and carried momentum into extra time, but Kings All-Star Adrian Kempe scored the winner just 72 seconds in.
“Obviously, we haven’t brought our best game yet, and they’re a good team,” a terse McDavid said afterward. “They’re structured. They play hard. They do a lot of good things out there. It takes a complete game to beat them, and we haven’t brought that yet.”
The Oilers will have to do it without top defenseman Darnell Nurse, who got suspended Wednesday for head-butting LA’s Phillip Danault in Game 5. Nurse leads Edmonton in ice time and anchors their defense, yet he made his inexplicable decision after a play was already blown dead late in the second period.
Edmonton’s Zack Kassian also got hit with a $5,000 fine for cross-checking LA’s Sean Durzi during Game 5. Taken together, the incidents could indicate the Oilers are feeling the pressure of expectations — or maybe the Kings are just really good at getting under their skin .
Los Angeles hasn’t exactly stopped McDavid or Leon Draisaitl: They both put up three-point performances in Game 5, and McDavid is the entire postseason’s second-leading scorer with nine points in five games. Edmonton is outscoring LA 21-15 in the series.
But the Kings – who scored fewer goals in the regular season than every playoff team except Dallas – have put up 13 goals in their three wins.
“We knew that this was the game they were going to play,” McDavid said. “They play a 1-3-1 (formation). We know that. We found ways to produce offense. We scored four tonight. That needs to be enough in a playoff game. Obviously it’s not. We need to keep the puck out of our net.”
MAPLE LEAFS at LIGHTNING, Toronto leads series 3-2 (7:30 pm EDT, TBS)
Tampa Bay’s resilience and Toronto’s lack of recent postseason success are well-documented.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning are 17-0 in games following a playoff loss over the past three postseasons. They’re facing possible elimination in a series for only the second time since the start of the 2020 playoffs.
The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, haven’t won a playoff series since 2004. They’ve been eliminated in the first round every year since 2017.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper is confident his team will respond in Game 6. He also acknowledged it’s difficult to imagine Toronto’s recent playoff futility isn’t lingering in the back of the Maple Leafs’ minds.
“That is a hurdle to get over. I’m sure they’re thinking about that. But for us … we can’t sit here and say, ‘Well, these guys haven’t won in years past, so they’re not going to win again,’” Cooper said.
“Is there pressure on them? No doubt. They’re human,” Cooper added. “We’ve been in some of these situations. We won’t have these types of games before. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to.”
The Maple Leafs expect a strong response from the Lightning, but they won Game 3 in Tampa. They’re headed back to Florida feeling good about their chances of finishing the job.
“We believe we’ve got the right mix and all the right things happening to have the confidence to go out and play well,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “(But) that doesn’t make the challenge any easier.”
HURRICANES at BRUINS, Carolina leads series 3-2 (7 pm EDT, TNT)
The home teams have been in control of this series. That’s a reason for Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy to feel confident about his team’s chances of extending the season.
“For us, we need to win a home game,” Cassidy said Wednesday. “That’s all that’s in front of us right now.”
Carolina won Games 1 and 2 on home ice before Boston responded by capitalizing on the Hurricanes’ 14 penalties to level the series with home wins in Games 3 and 4. But the Hurricanes rolled at home in Game 5.
Cassidy said Jeremy Swayman will make his third straight start in Game 6, and he anticipates having defenseman Hampus Lindholm back in the lineup. Lindholm hasn’t played since being leveled on a jarring shoulder-to-chest hit by Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov in Game 2.
For Carolina, the plan is simple: stay out of the penalty box and keep the game at even strength. The Hurricanes have outscored the Bruins 12-6 in 5-on-5 goals in the series, and they committed just three penalties in Game 5.
“When we play 5-on-5 hockey, I don’t think really anyone can beat us in this league,” Carolina winger Max Domi said.
WILD at BLUES, Blues lead 3-2 (9:30 pm EDT, TNT)
Wild coach Dean Evason has spoken fondly about the chess match that takes place within a playoff series, and with his team on the brink of elimination the time might have come for some more bold strategic moves.
The only lineup change Evason and his third staff have made was a swap of-pair defensemen, from Dmitry Kulikov to Alex Goligoski after Game 1. Blues coach Craig Berube, meanwhile, has aggressively mixed up his forward lines and made a successful goalie switch after Game 3 from Ville Husso to Jordan Binnington — while also constantly juggling blue line pairs with a rash of injuries to defensemen.
So how about Game 6?
“Is that the perception, if you do it, it’s like panic? Or you just do it to give your team a tweak, just give them a jumpstart if things aren’t going the way you want?” Evason said, declining to divulge any potential moves before the team flew to St. Louis on Wednesday. “We have to make some changes. We will. Hopefully we’ll choose the right ones.”
For all the high-scoring games the Blues enjoyed this season, this series has proven they’re at their best when they use their grit and go hard at the net. Vladimir Tarasenko, who had a natural hat trick in the third period of Game 5 to put the Blues in control, fully realized this despite being one of the team’s true skilled players.
“It’s nice to make plays and play with the puck and create some opportunities, but in playoffs, sometimes it’s tight. Teams check pretty well. It’s not frustrating, but it’s hard to switch your mind to play more of a grind game. Sometimes that’s what you need to do,” Tarasenko said.
AP Sports Writers Fred Goodall, Aaron Beard and Dave Campbell contributed to this report.
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