In the most exciting game of the series, the Los Angeles Kings were victorious in Game 5, after Adrian Kempe’s overtime winner. The Kings now lead the series 3-2, heading home with the chance to upset the Edmonton Oilers. Here are three takeaways from the victory.
Kings Experience a McDavid Onslaught
The Kings had complete control of the game heading into the third period up 3-1, dominating statistically, but Connor McDavid nearly stole this one from them. McDavid scored once and set up two other goals to complete the Oilers’ third-period comeback, and he set up the one goal he didn’t register a point on. It was one of the most impressive performances of the playoffs and the epitome of the cruelty of his young career: despite doing everything in his power to get his team across the line, he was let down in the end.
The other piece of Edmonton’s dynamic duo, Leon Draisaitl, had more of an up-and-down game. Despite his two goals and assist, he finished a minus-2, and his line was outmatched by Philip Danault’s for most of the game. It wasn’t until Draisaitl moved off the second line and onto McDavid’s that he positively impacted the game. Of course, he is also an elite player and was helped take over the game late. However, like McDavid, his heroics were all for naught. The Kings were just able to withstand the onslaught of these two but will have to be ready for Game 6 when they will be playing for their playoff lives.
Adrian Kempe Arrives
Kempe has received plenty of hate from fans during this series, with just two points in the first four games and was a combined minus-4. He started the series strong in Game 1 but underwhelmed in the three games since. Game 5 was a completely different story; he looked more like the player who scored 35 goals during the regular season Tuesday night.
Kempe was assertive with the puck and attacked with his size and speed. He scored a goal halfway through the second period, cashing in on a turnover at the offensive blue line and sneaking the puck between goaltender Mike Smith’s legs. He then grabbed a primary assist on Danault’s power-play goal, selling the shot before sliding the puck down for Danault to deflect it in.
Related: Kings Shouldn’t Worry About an Adrian Kempe Regression
But it was his overtime-winner that really signaled his return. It was the kind of goal we’ve come to expect from Kempe this season. Picking up the puck in the neutral zone, he attacked and torched a tired McDavid. He then used his size and speed to attack Duncan Keith, dropping his shoulder, widening his base, and forcing his way to the net. He beat Keith to the net, using his legs to fend off Keith’s stick check before reaching across and tucking the puck into the empty net.
It was a true power forward’s goal and the kind of play that made scouts describe him as “a bull in a China shop” when he was drafted. A key factor in his breakout season has been his willingness to force the issue and attack space. He has realized that he’s a big, fast, strong player who can create space for himself. When Kempe gets hot, there’s almost no stopping him, and the Oilers will be in a lot of trouble if he can ride this momentum into Game 6.
McLellan’s Lineup Decisions Continue to Pay Off
Before Game 5, head coach Todd McLellan made another controversial decision, scratching Gabe Vilardi in favor of Andreas Athanasiou, who was scratched in Game 4. McLellan is usually reluctant to change a winning lineup, so this decision was a bit shocking. It paid off in a big way, though, with Athanasiou grabbing a goal in the second period. His speed also caused problems for the Oilers all night, and he was moved to the third line alongside Blake Lizotte and Dustin Brown in the second period because of his play. If scratching Athanasiou in Game 4 was meant to send a message, that message was clearly received in Game 5.
Athanasiou was the only lineup change for Game 5, but McLellan’s other decisions from Game 4 again paid off. Several people were not happy with Troy Stecher coming in to replace rookie Jordan Spence, but Stecher has taken this chance with both hands, having registered three points in two games. He opened the scoring in this game with a howitzer from the point and chipped the puck up to Kempe for the eventual game-winner.
McLellan reunited Stecher and Alex Edler, who had spent time together as members of the Vancouver Canucks and shortly during the regular season with the Kings. That pairing has been solid over the last two games, providing much-needed stability and offensive threat to the team’s blue line.
The other change that carried over from Game 4 was playing Carl Grundstrom alongside Danault and Trevor Moore. While he didn’t register any points, Grundstrom was once again excellent. He is playing a hard-nosed, north-south brand of hockey that is always effective in the postseason, and he is being rewarded for it. He was driving to the net, forechecking with intent, and overall making life miserable for the Oilers. He was in and out of the lineup during the regular season, appearing in just 54 games, but he’s staking his claim on a roster spot now.
Kings Can Take the Series in Game 6
The Kings are now in a position that very few predicted they would be in before the series started: they have a chance to eliminate the Oilers Thursday night on home ice. Despite a concerning Game 2 and 3, when they lost by a combined score of 14-2, the Kings are now in the driver’s seat. They’ve proven that when they play their game, forechecking hard and clogging the neutral zone, they can beat Edmonton. The Kings now have roughly an 80% chance of winning this series, but with two of the best players in hockey standing in the way, closing it out won’t be easy.