There were brief moments Saturday night at the sold-out Rogers Place in Edmonton, where the Los Angeles Kings looked like the two-time Stanley Cup champions of the past decade. Goalkeeper Jonathan Quick at least looked like the 2012 veteran Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
Unfortunately for the Kings, those moments were rare. For most of the game, LA looked like the underdog in the first-round matchup with Edmonton, forced to try and stop the attack after the vaunted Oilers attack.
Ultimately, by the time the final bell rang announcing the end of the third period, the Kings were unable to extend their season any further. After the loss, they were in a familiar place: for the eighth season in a row, they did not get past the first round of the Stanley Cup Play-offs.
The 2-0 loss to the Oilers in Game 7 sent the Kings to Cancun earlier than anyone would have liked, now forced to pick up the pieces of a disappointing end to the season, all the while continuing the rebuilding that took them back into the postseason. for the first time since 2018.
In the winter take-all Game 7 in Edmonton, the team that scored first won every game of the series. Both teams tried their best to strike first in the first period, each with multiple scoring opportunities, but the scoreless first 20 minutes put more pressure on the home side and kept the Kings’ confidence high going into the second.
It was much of the same for most of the second period, the tension within Rogers Place was palpable, each time Edmonton nearly broke through fans held their breath with excitement, but somehow Quick managed to get all the newcomers out. thwart, until the exhale finally came with only 6:45 left in the second.
The Kings hoped to survive another frantic attack from the Oilers when team MVP Connor McDavid missed an opportunity for another wraparound goal like he had in Game 6, instead finding a darting Cody Ceci whose one-off open space found the far right side of just before the first goal of the game.
In a game full of “almost” it finally turned in favor of the home side. The Oliers, who were the highest placed team during the regular season, not to mention the heavy favorites who entered the series, had finally broken through. With fortunes in their favor with the team to score first in the series, they only needed 20 more minutes to hold on to have a chance of meeting nearby rival Calgary Flames in the semi-finals.
The Kings hung out for most of the third period, but it was again McDavid who sealed the win with a great backhand goal with 3:53 left in the game. The insurance goal was easily one of the biggest goals in McDavid’s young career.
Regardless of the outcome, it was NHL fans who were the real winners after the series. The Oilers and Kings first round series was full of drama, intrigue and wild momentum swings. After the Kings stole Game 1 in Edmonton, the Oilers defeated LA 14-2 in Games 2 and 3 to take a 2-1 lead.
But the Kings recovered at home in Game 4, Quick brought them to a 4-0 shutout to tie the series, and they brought that momentum to Game 5 in Edmonton, where Adrian Kempe’s goal in extra time made LA to a 5 -4 victory, putting the Oilers on the brink of elimination.
However, the inexperienced Oilers didn’t flinch in Game 6 in Los Angeles. Even as their 2-0 lead collapsed and the Kings came back to match it late in the third period, the Oilers dug deep to take the win and send the series back to Rogers Place for Game 7.
In all, five of the eight series of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs reached Game 7; a huge win for hockey.
Despite the loss, Quick was sensational, stopping 39 shots. His counterpart, Mike Smith, made 29 saves.
The biggest difference in the game was the huge difference in shots on target. The Oilers defeated the Kings nearly two-to-one, 41 to 29.
At the forefront of Kings’ future is how they’ll move on without longtime Captain Dustin Brown. The 20-year veteran announced his retirement before the playoffs started. Brown is likely to lead a major void in the dressing room as many young players on the roster have admitted to turning to Brown over the years for advice and guidance.
Other tough decisions will also have to be made by the Kings front office. The team has eight unrestricted free players, including Olli Maata, Alexander Edler, Troy Stetcher and Andreas Athanasiou, whose head-up play saved a goal in the second period. Game 5 hero Adrian Kempe is a restricted free agent and it seems highly unlikely that the Kings will let him go.
Anyway, now that the Kings have returned to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and nearly upset the Oilers in the first round, the rebuilding future looks bright for the Kings.