Oilers’ Turning Point vs Kings Might Be Key to Stanley Cup Success

The Edmonton Oilers got down early versus the Los Angeles Kings. Behind 2-1 in the series and 3-0 in the first period of Game 4, things did not look good. There has always been a sense that the league’s highest-scoring team could come back from most deficits, but honest fans will probably tell you there were real reasons for concern. Had the defensively-sound Kings figured out a way to stifle the Oilers? Was this group led by Connor McDavid going to disappoint and be ousted early after so many picked them as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders? When that first period ended, it wasn’t clear what the Oilers were going to do.

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But, they gutted it out. Taking things one shift at a time, Edmonton put their backup netminder in, scored one goal on the power play, then one at five-on-five. They worked to get another power play and tied it up by the end of the second. When they ultimately won that game and evened the series, the Oilers knew what they needed to do to win and while the road wasn’t always smooth, they learned a number of key lessons, lessons that could take them all the way to the Stanley Cup.

The Stars Will Step Up in Key Moments

Down 3-0, it was the Oilers’ top offensive players who got Edmonton back in it. Evan Bouchard scored the first goal and Leon Draisaitl the next two. Connor McDavid assisted on the first two goals, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, and Bouchard picking up other assists. Good all series, it was the key guys who the Oilers rely upon who came through when the team needed them most and when the chips were down.

Leon Draisaitl Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Knowing this team has elite-level talent is one thing. Knowing those same players have the ability to show up in the face of adversity and put the team on their backs to get back in a game that looks like it’s out of hand is something the entire group can have confidence in. While that shouldn’t mean the depth guys don’t do their part, there’s a reason these stars get the opportunities and time on the ice they do — they deliver.

Going into future series’ — next against the Vegas Golden Knights who have proven to have a pretty lousy penalty kill in the playoffs thus far — it will be these key players who need to lead the way.

The Oilers Know Their Backup Can Do The Job

Head coach Jay Woodcroft made a gutsy decision by going with Jack Campbell to start period two of that game. Not everyone would have done so considering the regular season Campbell had and with the Oilers’ playoff hopes potentially on the line. Had Campbell not delivered, it’s hard to know how soul-crushing that might have been. But he did. And what he did is critical to the Oilers moving forward.

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Depending on who you ask, putting Stuart Skinner back in for Game 5 might have also been somewhat risky. Some coaches would have run with the hot hand, but Skinner was Woodcroft’s guy and he was going back to the netminder that got the Oilers where they were.

Not only did Woodcroft discover that Campbell is up to the challenge when called upon, but he now also knows that Skinner can rebound and fight back after a less-than-ideal performance. The fact the Oilers have two solid options in net during these playoffs can make all the difference in a long playoff run.

The Oilers Learned Their Depth Guys Are Ready

Once the Oilers had worked themselves back and tied the series, the rest of the offense showed up in games five and six. Evander Kane, Brett Kulak, and Nick Bjugstad were among the scorers in Game 5 and names like Klim Kostin and Kailer Yamamoto showed up in a big way in Game 6. It was the depth guys that ended up making the difference in those final two games and the Kings– who had done a fairly effective job against the Oilers’ stars (all things considered) — just couldn’t keep up.

Related: Oilers Winning Playoff Games Despite McDavid’s Dip in Production

Again, having depth in these playoffs will mean a world of difference. When McDavid or Draisaitl aren’t going, or the Oilers aren’t getting their power play looks, it will be the bottom-six players and different pieces from the blue line that needs to step up and produce. Finishing the series with these players getting on the scoresheet will breed confidence that much can be done in limited minutes. And, if need be, Woodcroft can cut back some of the minutes of his top guys to keep them fresh.

Having to come back from a three-goal deficit might have been the best thing for the Oilers in this year’s playoffs. Not only did they learn that they can, but it took a total team effort to do so and eventually turn the tide in a series that gave the club all they could handle.