Rebuilding a squad goes beyond filling places on the list, as well as finding right-handed shooting defenders to pair with left-handed shooters and acquiring role-playing players who fit the franchise’s foundation.
When all goes well, and it is rarely quick or safe, a rebuilt team develops and naturally gathers around an identity. The players live it, they are proud of it. After struggling to end the steep drop that followed their two Stanley Cup championships the kings have used their first post-season journey since 2018 to create a new identity, one they believe will define them for years to come.
Their resilience served them well during the first round playoff series against Edmonton, allowing them to bounce back from a couple of two-goal losses and move within one game of winning the series. But the Oilers responded with some resilience on Thursday, pulling off a 4-2 win over a Tyson Barrie goal from above the right circle with five minutes and 10 seconds left in the third period. An empty goal scored victory for the Oilers.
The teams will decide the winner in Game 7 on Saturday, at Rogers Place in Edmonton. That team will advance to the second round against the winner of the Calgary-Dallas series, which Calgary leads 3-2.
Edmonton had built a 2-0 lead over Connor McDavid’s first round in the first period and Evander Kane’s deflection early in the second period, but the Kings repelled with a Sean Durzi power-play goal at the end of the second period and Carl Grundstrom’s ending on a nice feed from Matt Roy with 29 seconds into the third period. But McDavid and Draisaitl did their magic to prepare Barrie for the winner, creating the possibility that Kings forward Dustin Brown, who will retire after the season, had played his last home game for the team.
Despite the loss of defender Drew Doughty in March to late season wrist surgery and the loss of 20-goal scorer Viktor Arvidsson to the series to a lower body injury, the Kings beat the Oilers in moments. key. As the Oilers reacted to the urgency of an elimination game by reconfiguring their lines to bring together superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on Thursday, the Kings looked into their identity and preparation.
“We know we’re going to give our best tonight. They will play desperate. They will do everything they can, so we have to be ready for it, “said Kings defender Alex Edler.” We have to play our game, run our game. “
Edmonton also had to replace big-time defender Darnell Nurse, who has been suspended a game for hitting Kings center Phillip Danault during Game 5 on Tuesday in Edmonton. Kris Russell is back in the lineup but isn’t such a formidable presence. The Kings looked inside again in response.
“They have very capable defenders to put into the lineup, the ones who have been waiting for their chance and will be hungry,” McLellan said. “For us, we are much more concerned about the players who are playing than the one who is not.”
McLellan’s moves were disturbing. Defender Troy Stecher, signed in March for a pick on the seventh round and included in the lineup for Game 4, contributed a goal and an assist in each of Games 4 and 5. Winger Andreas Athanasiou, scratched for Game 4, scored a goal in Game 4 Game 5. Winger Grundstrom, injured and unable to play in Game 3, scored two goals in Game 4.
“It’s amazing to see those guys get by and have great games for us,” said winger Alex Iafallo. “These are huge goals and they push us forward and give us momentum and things like that.”
Iafallo said he expected players to be calm on Thursday facing the possibility of ending the series. A seventh game, if required, will be played on Saturday in Edmonton.
“I feel like that’s a little bit what we’ve been talking about throughout this series, just sticking together,” said Iafallo. “Obviously you will feel energized before the game, but you have to channel it right and take every turn as if it were your last and make sure you have more positives than mistakes.”
The Kings will take the lead in some way, regardless of the outcome. They have discovered what they have in terms of talent and character, and they know that inventing a semi-decent power play and an average penalty kill could make them a threat to the Cup. They had no pressure.
Not so for the Oilers, who were very favorites. Edmonton revolves around superstars but hasn’t been able to complete what should be the simplest stage of assembling a team: finding a reliable goalkeeper 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 enlisted No. 1 in 2015 the Oilers won a series of playoffs in 2017. Fans and media are restless.
McLellan, who coached the Oilers from 2015-16 during their first 20 games of 2018-19, knows the challenges the Oilers face. “Maybe I’m the only one who can talk about 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 that it’s huge across Oil Country and Canada and superstars and media pressure and where they’ve been and what they want to do. Many people who have followed this series have used it [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 think ”.
The pressure point of the Kings was in a comfortable environment. “We will use our internal pressure, the pressure we put when we look at each other in the locker room, the expectations we have for each other. This is what we want to take advantage of, “McLellan said.” We can’t control what happens with their group. “
They did well to check their course and create a new identity to build on, both this season and shortly thereafter.