If you believe captain Anze Kopitar, the Kings are right where they want to be after seven months and 88 games: facing at least 60 more minutes of hockey Saturday that could decide the fate of their season.
“If you told us that we’ve got to win one game to advance, we’d certainly take the opportunity,” said Kopitar, looking ahead to Game 7 of his team’s first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the Edmonton Oilers. “You’ve got to get ready for one game. That’s all there is to it.”
However, Kopitar might not take the route that got his team to this point. With a chance to close out the series at home on Thursday, the Kings spotted the Oilers a two-goal lead, rallied to tie the game in the third period, then gave up two goals in the final five minutes and 10 seconds to lose 4-2 at Crypto.com Arena.
That forced the team into another three-hour flight to Edmonton on Friday for a decisive seventh game. But even coach Todd McLellan was embracing the circumstances.
“We like this situation,” he said. “If somebody said ‘Hey, the L.A. Kings against the Edmonton Oilers, go play for one game?’ We’re not particularly happy how we got to it. But we can’t do anything about that now.
“So let’s look ahead. We won there before. We can win there again.”
In fact, two of the Kings’ three wins in the series have come in Edmonton. And during the regular season, the team was better on the road than it was at home.
“We’ve been comfortable on the road all year,” McLellan said. “We’re fine. We’ve played in some really tough buildings against some really good teams. So it’s not like I have to walk in the [locker] room and sprinkle some pixie dust all over them to get them to play.
“They’ve played on the road and they feel confident now.”
There’s one more factor working in the Kings’ favor. It’s been 20 years since they lost the seventh game of a postseason series. They have won four such games since then, most recently three on the road in 2014. But Kopitar is one of just three Kings in uniform who was on that squad.
“It’s been a while since we did it,” Kopitar said. “So we’ll refocus tomorrow. We’ll do whatever we need to do to be fresh and we’ll go up and try to win a game.”
The Kings have been up and down throughout this series, giving up 14 goals in back-to-back games, then shutting the Oilers out in the next one. On Thursday they were a little bit of both.
They were lax early, giving up a goal to Connor McDavid in the first two minutes of the opening period and another to King nemesis Evander Kane in the opening two minutes of the second period.
But then they bore down, rallying back to tie the game on Sean Durzi’s second-period power-play goal — just the third the Kings have scored in 24 chances — and Carl Grundstrom’s goal 29 seconds into the final period.
The Kings couldn’t finish it off though, with a mistake leading to Tyson Barrie’s go-ahead goal on a slapshot from the top of the right faceoff circle with 4:50 to play. Kane accounted for the final goal, his seventh of the series, on an empty-netter in the final minute.
But rather than mourning the loss, McLellan quickly turned the page. His young team had come so close to winning the series, only to have to get on a plane and wait two days to try it again, This was an experience they could draw on, he said.
“We’ve had a dress rehearsal,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to need to go in there and give them any type of let’s-win-one-for-the-Gipper-type speeches. There’s enough leadership in there and there’s a lot of proud guys in that room.
“We’re going to go play a hockey game. We believe at the end of the night we can win.”