Oilers vs. Kings Would Be An Epic Playoff Matchup

It’s a great time of year. The weather is getting warmer, the birds are returning from their southern holiday and we’re in the stretch drive of the 2022-23 NHL regular season. The countdown to the playoffs is on and the Edmonton Oilers are right in the thick of the Pacific Division and Western Conference races.

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Predicting where the Oilers will finish is anybody’s guess, but the odds that they will somehow end up playing the Los Angeles Kings in the first or second round of the playoffs are looking better and better every day. And that’s something I wouldn’t be too over-confident about if I were the Oilers.

Kings Took Oilers to Seven Games in 2022 Playoffs

When the Oilers hosted the Kings in the 2022 Playoffs, some predicted they would handily take the series. The Oilers finished five points ahead of the Kings in the 2021-22 regular season and had home-ice advantage in their first round series. Even without future Hall of Fame defenceman Drew Doughty, the Kings gave the Oilers everything they could handle, and it took a herculean effort by Connor McDavid in Game 6 and Game 7 of that series to seal the Oilers’ victory.

Alex Edler Los Angeles Kings Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers is watched by Alexander Edler of the Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

In fact, the challenge the Kings put up against the Oilers helped propel McDavid to another level. One that he hasn’t looked back from. He found even more of the fire inside that you need to be a champion, and now, like all of the greats in NHL history, the desire to win is consuming him. But it looks like this playoff season could present an even greater challenge for McDavid and the Oilers if they meet Los Angeles, as the Kings have been playing great hockey all year.

Fiala, Korpisalo and Doughty Could Be The Difference for the Kings

The Kings are deeper this season after the acquisition of left winger Kevin Fiala in the offseason and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline. Fiala currently leads the Kings in scoring, while Korpisalo has strengthened the Kings’ goaltending picture. They had to let go of popular netminder Jonathan Quick to get Korpisalo and the move is already paying dividends as he has put up a .921 save percentage with a 3-0 record so far.

Joonas Korpisalo Los Angeles Kings
Joonas Korpisalo, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Rob Curtis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The intangible in all of this is that Korpisalo seems to have had the Oilers’ number this season. In his two starts against them on Jan. 25 and Feb. 25 with his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, he stoned the Oilers and got inside their heads as the Blue Jackets swept the season series. The Oilers play the Kings two more times this season, and if Korpisalo stands on his head again, that could mean big trouble if they were to meet the Kings in the playoffs.

Related: Kings’ Addition of Korpisalo Could Be Problematic for the Oilers

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A healthy Doughty will also help strengthen the Kings’ chances of going far in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. He’s looking rejuvenated on the Kings’ blue line and is in the top 20 in NHL scoring for defencemen. He also has a history of getting inside the Oilers’ heads, which would make an Oilers versus Kings playoff matchup even more compelling.

Oilers Are Deeper This Season

The addition of defenceman Mattias Ekholm and forward Nick Bjugstad at the NHL Trade Deadline has bolstered what was already one of the best lineups the Oilers have assembled in years. Led by the incomparable duo of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers’ offense is the most lethal in the NHL. With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman having career years, and Evander Kane rounding into form just in time for the playoffs, they also have one of the league’s best top-six forward units. They’re also getting strong support from forwards Derek Ryan, Warren Foegle, Klim Kostin, and even Kailer Yamamoto as of late.

The defensive side of the puck is where the Oilers could have trouble but Ekholm has helped steady the backend and bolstered the play of Evan Bouchard. The addition of the veteran blueliner has also helped lighten the load on Darnell Nurse, Cody Ceci, and Brett Kulak, which is good news for the team as the season draws to a close.

Mattias Ekholm Evan Bouchard Edmonton Oilers
Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The biggest question mark heading into the postseason is in goal. Can starter Stuart Skinner carry his strong regular season into the playoffs, and can the Oilers rely on Jack Campbell to be a reliable backup? It’s going to be interesting, especially if Skinner turns into the second coming of Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, or even Cam Ward, who all won Stanley Cup championships in their rookie seasons. He seems to have the right mental makeup, as he’s calm and steady in the crease, and there’s no reason why he won’t carry his strong regular season into the playoffs. That’s music to the ears of Oilers fans, who’ve been waiting a long time for a good young goalie to emerge as the No. 1 starter in Oil Country.

Oilers and Kings Could Both Go Far in the Playoffs

If the Oilers and Kings do square off in the 2023 NHL Playoffs, I’m predicting that the winner of that series will go on to the Western Conference Final and possibly the Stanley Cup Final. Kings head coach Todd McLellan has his team playing some of their best hockey of the season in the stretch drive. While Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft has his team keeping pace with both the Kings and Vegas Golden Knights.

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There are so many great storylines for a possible Oilers versus Kings playoff matchup – from former Oilers head coach McLellan looking to even the score after last year’s playoff exit, to the Oilers hoping to fulfill their potential and go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, it would be must-see TV for hockey fans everywhere. The countdown is on, we’re less than a month away from the playoffs – it really is the most wonderful time of the year wouldn’t you say?