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Elliott: Kings beat Oilers in Game 1 of first-round series

Elliott Kings beat Oilers in Game 1 of first round series


The Kings’ reward for completing a sometimes-tortured journey back to the Stanley Cup playoffs was a matchup they hoped wouldn’t turn out to be a punishment.

Finishing third in the Pacific Division put them up against the explosive Edmonton Oilers, whose top two centers have won the NHL scoring championship in five of the last six seasons. Connor McDavid won his second straight title and fourth overall by scoring a ridiculous 123 points; teammate Leon Draisaitl, the 2020 scoring champion, ranked fourth this season with 110 points.

“Arguably, we’re going against the best 1-2 punch,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said Monday morning.

As it turned out, the Kings administered the knockout punch to the Oilers. McDavid and Draisaitl each scored a goal but the Kings turned their apparent disadvantage into a strength, emerging with a 4-3 victory that deflated the spirits of the previously jubilant sellout crowd at Rogers Place.

“That was a big identity game,” said Phillip Danault, who deflected Sean Durzi’s long shot past Edmonton goaltender Mike Smith with five minutes and 14 seconds left in the third period. “We showed the character we got. They came back in the game but we stuck with it.”

The Kings entered this series as underdogs. They don’t care. “We believe in our group, our leadership,” said Thousand Oaks native Trevor Moore, who had a goal and two assists. Asked if that meant they believe they can prevail over the Oilers, he replied, “We can win the series, yes.”

There’s a long way to go before that, but this clearly was a good start for the Kings in their first playoff appearance since 2018 and first playoff win since 2016.

The chaos that followed Smith’s giveaway paved the way for Alex Iafallo to pounce on the puck and feed Durzi for the shot that Danault deflected for the winner. Danault, who was expected to lean more toward the defensive side of the game as the Kings tried to neutralize McDavid and Draisaitl, instead became their offensive spark. Adjusting swiftly when winger Viktor Arvidsson was unable to play because of an undisclosed injury, Danault skated alongside Moore and Iafallo in a trio that looked like it had been together for months. Iafallo, like Danault, had a goal and an assist.

“We’re not loaded with 20-goal scorers and he’s a big piece of our team,” coach Todd McLellan said of Arvidsson, “but we’ve been through this so much this season that it really is just another day at the office for us.”

Only if your office is the heated action of a playoff game. Danault remained calm throughout, helping his younger linemates while continuing to boost the offense. “In my mind offensive is a big part of his defending now,” McLellan said. “When you’re attacking the other team’s goaltender it’s the best defense you can have.”

The Kings built a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Moore from the slot and Iafallo by the left post, but McDavid used his speed to zip up the right side and rip a shot past Jonathan Quick in the final minute of the period.

Kings’ Trevor Moore celebrates a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the first period of Game 1 of the first-round playoff series on Monday in Edmonton, Canada.

(Jason Franson / Associated Press)

Kailer Yamamoto’s deflection of a shot by Duncan Keith brought the Oilers even during a power play early in the second period, but the Kings regained the lead on a shot by Brendan Lemieux from the right circle at 3:50. Draisaitl, with Iafallo in the penalty box after a debatable call, scored from inside the right circle at 9:56 to make it 3-3.

The matchups at center probably will go a long way toward determining the outcome of the series. McDavid and Draisaitl won’t be contained every game. But maybe Edmonton now has to be concerned about defending against Danault, Moore and Iafallo.

“I thought we did a good job like we have all year just leaning on our leadership,” Moore said. “You know those guys are going to have pushes — they have two of the best players in the world. They’re going to have their moments but Quickie made huge saves when we needed them.”

Kopitar said the Kings will have to be aware of factors beyond those two matchups, and he’s right. They went to the penalty box too often on Monday — the Oilers were two for four on the power play — and the Kings must get something out of their own power play, which couldn’t score in four chances. But McLellan generally was pleased, and he had the right to be.

“We’ve used the word identity a lot during the year and we played to that again. It’s what gives us a chance,” he said. “We checked fairly well, made some mistakes, went to the penalty box too much, but for the most part we were able to check. Got excellent goaltending which we expected and were opportunistic.

“We played in our skin. We played to our identity. We played a carbon copy of how we’ve done it.”

The Kings made a lot of progress this season, building depth, credibility and a sense of belief. Making the playoffs is fine. Competing for the Cup is another huge step.

“It’s nice, but we’re not going to look at this as an accomplishment,” Kopitar said of reaching the postseason. “We’re here to do some damage and win hockey games.”

Which they did, defying the odds and the matchups that they turned from supposed disadvantages to strengths.





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