LOS ANGELES — The longer their first-round playoff series goes, the lower the Sword of Damocles hangs over the Edmonton Oilers, who face the Kings at Staples Center on Thursday night. the knockout round.
Few prophets have picked the Kings to make the playoffs this season. Even after a successful campaign, the Kings have less than a one-in-three chance of winning this best-of-seven-inning series through well-known predictive models.
Conversely, Edmonton is somewhat embarrassing when it has arguably two of the best players in the world in its squad. The Oilers also play in an area of hockey craze, with a memento of perhaps the grandest dynasty of the expansion era following them in their path.
Oh, and a Canadian team hasn’t lifted the Stanley Cup since 1993.
Kings coach Todd McLellan, who coached the Oilers from 2015 to 2018, sidestepped the notion of the Kings “playing with house money” and reiterated that there was “internal pressure” on the Kings. However, he acknowledged that Edmonton was dealing with a completely different and more urgent set of emergencies.
“Maybe I’m the only one who can talk about this because I live on their bench and now I live on our bench. It’s totally different,” McClellan said. “Our pressure is what we put on ourselves. The pressure on them is enormous: the whole oil country, the whole of Canada, the superstars, the media pressure, where they’ve been and what they want to do.”
McDavey responded to the bell early in Game 6 – in which a win would only create a more demanding Game 7 at home – the only goal of the first period. But he was even better in the third quarter of Game 5, scoring a goal and tying it late, only to see his team falter at the start of overtime.
That’s appropriate, since much of the discussion around Edmonton has focused on how to strengthen, deepen and otherwise strengthen the supporting cast around the Oilers’ two stars. Last summer, they added free agent wing Zach Heyman and traded defenseman Duncan Keith, Chicago’s three-time Stanley Cup champion. Heyman had a 3-pointer in Game 3 and an assist in Game 5. Keith surrendered an own goal in Game 4 and was scorched by Adrian Kempe for an extra-time goal in Game 5.
The Oilers also had three different general managers and four different head coaches over the seven seasons of McDavid’s career. All of this upheaval came as he managed to mask Draisaitl, himself an MVP and the face of German hockey, in addition to making the most lofty comparisons.
McDavid sparked comparisons to some of the greatest hockey players and athletes of all time. They include Oilers and Kings great Wayne Gretzky, who led the Oilers to four of the five Stanley Cups they won between 1984 and 1990; Bobby Orr, McDavid’s mentor, perhaps The greatest defender of all time; Sidney Crosby, the prodigy of a previous generation and a role model for McDavid; even celebrities from other sports such as baseball’s Mike Trout and The LeBron James of basketball.
McDavey scored an astonishing 105 points in a 56-game-shortened season last year. But that fell short of Gretzky’s single-season record of 92 goals and 215 points set in two separate full seasons in his Edmonton career. His collection of individual accomplishments — two Hart trophies, three Lindsay Awards, four Art Ross trophies and more — rivals that of any player in any sport, especially when he’s just 25 years old. But he has yet to grab the most coveted metal in the game, the Stanley Cup.
“If you’re going to compare LeBron James to me, I think we’re obviously a little bit different,” McDavid told The New York Times earlier this season. “He’s won countless championships and has been in the Finals for years, and I haven’t done anything.”
no longer mysterious
After five games and a few tweaks, McClellan and Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft (which McClellan coached early in his career) may have gotten away with tweaks and twists.
“It was a chess game early in the series, but then you used up all the chess moves and there weren’t too many surprises,” McClellan said.
Another clearer mystery is the status of winger Victor Arvidsen. Before Game 1, McClellan suggested he wasn’t injured at all. Over the course of the series, his prognosis became increasingly dire. On Thursday, he was officially ruled out of Game 6 and a potential Game 7.
While the Kings won three of five games in this series and lost the other two by a 14-2 scoreline that skewed the game’s statistics, there were some clear commonalities. The Kings got off to a quick start in nearly every game, and the Oilers dominated the special-team battle, scoring nine goals for the Kings in a power play and underhanded situation.
Kings’ most experienced defenseman and third-biggest player, Alex Edler, said the Kings’ fortunes came down to preparation and commitment.
“We just need to be ready to execute our game,” he said. “Be sharp, be alert every time we step on the ice, always know who’s out there against you. We have to make sure we play our game well and our intensity level goes up.”
Nurse out, Russell in
Oilers guard Darnell Nurse comes from an athletic family, to say the least.
His father Richard played professional football in Canada, his mother Cathy was a college basketball player, his uncle Donovan McNabb was a Pro Bowl quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, and his sister Kia played for the WNBA The Phoenix Mercury team made a trade, and his cousin Sarah won an Olympic gold in ice hockey earlier this year.
Nurse played many different sports growing up, but one that he probably didn’t get his hands on was professional wrestling. In Game 5, though, he hit Phillip Danault in the head, and the Oilers’ No. 1 defense was suspended for one game.
Skating in his place on Thursday was Chris Russell. McClellan coached both players in Edmonton and called Russell the best shot-blocker he’s ever seen. These numbers support McClellan’s argument that Russell is the leading shot-blocker in NHL history, even though the stat has only been officially tabulated since 2005-06.