The Edmonton Oilers throttled the Los Angeles Kings 6-0 at Rogers Place on Wednesday (May 4) to square their best-of-seven first-round series at one game apiece. Evander Kane scored twice for the Oilers, who also got goals from Leon Draisaitl, Ryan McLeod, Darnell Nurse and Jesse Puljujarvi. Goaltender Mike Smith made 30 saves to record the shutout.
Spurred on by a rocking sellout crowd of more than 18,000, the Oilers won their first playoff game before fans since 2017. They also snapped a seven-game postseason losing streak, rebounding after dropping Game 1 to the Kings by a 4-3 score on Monday (May 2).
In one electrifying night, the mood in Oil Country has changed, from verging on panic to unbridled excitement. Wednesday’s victory showed how good the Oilers can be when everything is clicking, and that’s good enough to make a serious run this spring.
Here’s a look at three key reasons the Oilers took Game 2 in such dominating fashion and why they should be able to have success as the playoffs roll along.
1. Smith Shuts the Door
All the hope Smith had provided the Oilers with his stellar play to end the regular season disappeared in one disastrous moment on Monday, when his risky clearing attempt from behind his net was intercepted, leading to the game-winning goal by Philip Danault with just over five minutes to play. Suddenly he wasn’t the experienced vet that had gone 9-0 with a 1.61 goals-against average and .951 save percentage in April, he was the 40-year-old who had lost 10 straight playoff games going back to 2019.
But Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft went back to Smith for Game 2, and the goalie responded with his first win in seven postseason starts as a member of the Oilers, while getting his name in the record books as just the sixth goalie in NHL history to record a postseason shutout at age 40 or older.
While he had a bit of help from his posts, and Nurse saved a goal by clearing the puck out of Edmonton’s crease early in the first period, Smith had a good outing overall. Moreover, his ability to bounce back was indicative of a team-wide resiliency that showed this wasn’t the Oilers of years prior that crashed out of the postseason in 2020 and 2021.
In his last 10 starts, spanning the regular season and playoffs, Smith is 9-1 with a 1.40 GAA, .959 SV% and three shutouts. Those are the types of stats from goalies who backstop their teams to the Cup, and he has sustained this level of play long enough now that there’s reason to believe he can keep it up for another month or two without the drop-off that most fans have feared is inevitable.
2. Oilers Get Depth Scoring
Already seven different Oilers have scored in the first two games of the playoffs, which is equal to the number of different goal scorers for Edmonton in the entire series against both the Chicago Blackhawks (3-1 loss) in 2020 and Winnipeg Jets (4-0 loss) in 2021.
This continues Edmonton’s trend of balanced scoring since Woodcroft took over from the fired Dave Tippett on Feb. 10. That depth was as much as any reason to credit for the Oilers’ 19-4-2 record over the last 25 games of the regular season, and it will likewise be a huge factor if they go on an extended playoff run.
Of note are the offensive contributions from the backend, as Edmonton’s defensemen have combined for seven points in the first two games. On Wednesday, Nurse became the first Oilers blueliner to score a shorthanded goal in the playoffs since Steve Smith in 1990, while Evan Bouchard had two assists, making the 22-year-old the youngest rearguard not named Paul Coffey or Eric Brewer to record a multi-point game in Oilers postseason history.
With more Oilers stepping up, some of the pressure has been taken off Draisaitl and Connor McDavid to carry the entire team on their backs, which was ultimately an impossible task that saw the Oilers fail to advance in the last two postseasons.
3. Oilers Take the Body
A team not known for its physicality during the regular season (with an average of 22.33 hits per game, they ranked in the middle of the pack in the NHL), the Oilers have been throwing their weight around thus far against the Kings.
Edmonton dished out 40 hits in Game 1, two more than the Kings, and held a 48-46 edge in hits on Wednesday. Just one of their 18 skaters, that being defenseman Brett Kulak, failed to record a hit in Game 2, while 10 Oilers registered at least three. Forward Zack Kassian led the team with six. Even McDavid has been getting in on the act. The Art Ross Trophy winner dished out four hits on in the 6-0 win, equalling his career-high.
While it may be a cliché, “playoff hockey” is a real thing, and it’s how the Oilers are playing right now in their first-round series against Los Angeles.
Next Two in Los Angeles
The series now shifts to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4 at Crypto.com Arena, and while the Oilers should be feeling pretty good after Wednesday’s emphatic victory, the Kings are in the driver’s seat having taken home advantage by earning the split in the Edmonton.
If they are to advance to the second round, the Oilers will need to win at least once in Southern California. Their first opportunity comes Friday (May 6) with puck drop scheduled for 8 p.m. MDT.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.