The Kings were scheduled to fly back to Edmonton on Monday afternoon in the same position they were in when they left the city last week: dead even in their best-of-seven NHL playoff with the Oilers.
But just about everything else about the first-round series has changed. With Sunday’s feisty 4-0 win in Game 4 at Crypto.com Arena, the Kings not only matched the Oilers with two wins, they also wrested back control in a series they were on the verge of getting blown out of.
What they didn’t do, coach Todd McLellan said, was change the momentum. At this time of year, he said, that can flip with every shot, every check and every save, leaving the teams to start from scratch again in Game 5 on Tuesday.
“No momentum,” McLellan said. “It starts again every night. If momentum carried over, we’d have been drilled [Sunday].”
Indeed. The Oilers scored 14 times to win by six goals in both the second and third games of the series, handing the Kings’ their most lopsided playoff losses in 32 years. Defensemen Mikey Anderson said the players took that personally.
“You look at the series now, it’s back to all square,” he said. “So we try and forget about the two games we lost and turn our attention to the next one.”
But the series can’t end with the next one; Sunday’s win assured the Kings of at least one more home game Thursday. What that game will mean, McLellan said, will be determined by what his young team has learned thus far in the series.
“Our team still has to improve. The big question I’m going to ask our guys is have we learned our lesson?” he said. “We win Game 1 and we do nothing in Games 2 or 3 that even looks remotely close.
“Have we learned anything throughout the series? We’ll find out it.”
One thing that was reaffirmed Sunday is the fact that Jonathan Quick is a pretty good goalie. Quick was pulled midway through Game 3 after giving up 10 goals in less than five periods, but he rebounded in Game 4, stopping 31 shots to pitch his 10th playoff shutout, the most by an American, and his first since 2014, when he helped the Kings win their second Stanley Cup in three years.
Sunday’s win was the team’s first in a home playoff game since that Stanley Cup final, which was also the last postseason series the Kings won. Quick is one of just four holdovers from that team and McLellan said the tone those veterans set will be important if the Kings hope to win this series.
“[They] should be absorbing every single minute of the ups and downs in this series and look around at how certain people handle it,” he said of the other players observing the veterans. “They’re all carrying themselves a certain way. There’s a relaxation factor that comes into play when we need it. There’s an intensity factor that goes up when we need it. And it’s not manufactured by the coaching staff.
“The last time I saw that I was in Detroit as an assistant coach.”
That team also won the Stanley Cup.
Whether the Kings are on that level is to be determined, but they certainly did a lot of things well in Game 4, with Trevor Moore and Troy Stecher staking the team to a 2-0 lead with first-period goals. Carl Grundstrom got the final two late in the third period, the last into an empty net.
The special teams, which have struggled in the series, also contributed, killing all three Edmonton power plays, marking the first time the Kings have been perfect on the penalty kill since the penultimate game of the regular season.
“We played the game they got us to the playoffs,” Quick said. “We play that way, we will be successful. We played a lot of good games.”
Did it give them momentum? No, just reassurance — and maybe a little confidence going back on the road, where they have the second-best road record in the Western Conference. Among all NHL teams only the Washington Capitals lost fewer road games than the Kings this season.
McLellan, however, isn’t looking past Tuesday. At this time of year, he said, it’s one game at a time.
“We’ve just got to win one. It’s all we have to do,” he said. “Our math doesn’t go past one.”
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