The Edmonton Oilers took a huge step in securing their postseason positioning with a 3-2 victory over the host Los Angeles Kings at Crypto.com Arena on Thursday (April 7).
After completing the sweep of their three-game California road trip, which included wins over the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday (April 3) and the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday (April 5), the Oilers have moved three points ahead of the Kings for second place in the Pacific Division standings. Edmonton is now seven points clear of the Vegas Golden Knights, who have the most points among teams outside of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
In the city of stars, it was Evan Bouchard that stole the show on Thursday. The 22-year-old Oilers blueliner had the finest game of his young NHL career, scoring the game-winning goal and chipping in two assists while reaching personal milestones in the process.
Edmonton forwards Warren Foegele and Connor McDavid also had goals while netminder Mike Smith made 31 stops for the Oilers, who picked up their sixth consecutive victory, their longest winning streak since going 6-0-0 from Dec. 2 to 14, 2015. Here are three takeaways from what was a very good night to be an Oilers fan.
Bouchard at his Best
The headlines will tell of how Bouchard totalled three points for the first time in an NHL game, but his impact on Thursday’s proceedings wasn’t just limited to the offensive zone.
Bouchard recorded a game-best plus/minus rating of plus-3, led all Oilers defencemen with three hits, and blocked a pair of shots. He also fired three shots on goal, tied for second-most among Edmonton skaters.
Bouchard’s goal, coming on a slapshot from just inside the blueline at 4:01 of the third period, snapped a skid of 31 games without lighting the lamp. It was his 10th goal of 2021-22, making him the youngest defenseman to score at least 10 goals for the Oilers in one season since a 22-year-old Paul Coffey had 40 goals in 1983-84.
Bouchard also became just the fourth blueliner in franchise history to score 10 or more goals at age 22 or younger, following Coffey, Kevin Lowe and Risto Siltanen. Further, with 38 points, he is just two away from joining that trio as the only rearguards in Oilers history to record 40 or more points in a single season at age 22 or under.
Smith Continues Strong Play
Make it three consecutive quality starts for Smith, who hadn’t gone more than two games without giving up at least three goals before backstopping the Oilers to a 3-0-0 record on their swing through California. Smith allowed only one goal each game in Edmonton’s wins against the Sharks and Ducks earlier this week.
Kings forward Viktor Arvidsson cut the Oilers’ lead to 3-2 with a goal seven minutes into the third period, but Smith regrouped to preserve the victory for Edmonton. He was particularly strong in the second period when the Kings peppered him with 17 shots, but only Trevor Moore was able to solve the 40-year-old netminder, scoring a short-handed goal after a turnover by defenceman Tyson Barrie inside his blueline.
Smith is 4-0-0 in April with a sparking 2.24 goals-against average (GAA) and .932 save percentage (SV%) and is 6-1-1 with a 2.50 GAA and .923 SV% since March 16.
While Smith still needs to show more to convince a rightly skeptical Oil Country that he has rediscovered the form of years past and is capable of leading the Oilers in a postseason race, there are signs that he is turning the corner, with more wins in his last seven starts (6) than in his first 15 (5) of 2021-22.
Oilers Updated Playoff Outlook
Whether it’s conversations in the stands or on the air, fans and media alike mostly seem to think that the Oilers and Kings are on course to meet in the first round of the playoffs, with the only undecided matter being who will finish second in the Pacific Division and have home advantage for the best-of-seven series.
But a quick glance at the standings and a look at recent trends suggest that the first NHL postseason clash between Edmonton and Los Angeles since 1992 is no certainty. For starters, Edmonton hasn’t yet lost sight of the division-leading Calgary Flames, who are six points in front of the Oilers.
The Oilers have 10 games remaining on their schedule, while Calgary will play 11 more times. If they can close the season by repeating their record of 7-2-1 from the last 10 games, they would be able to overtake Calgary so long as their provincial rivals get no more than eight points the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, just four points separate Vegas from the Kings, and the teams are going in opposite directions – Los Angeles is 2-4-0 over its last six, while the Knights have won four over their last five.
The Kings have nine games remaining on their schedule, while Vegas has 10, and if each team equals their record from the preceding games (Los Angeles is 4-3-2 in its last nine, the Knights are 7-3-0 in their last 10), then they would finish with 96 points apiece. The first tiebreaker is regulation wins, in which Vegas currently leads the Kings by two.
It figures to be an exciting race to the finish over the final three weeks of the regular season. The Oilers face a serious test in their next game when they host the league’s top team, the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Place on Saturday. Edmonton will be going for a franchise-record 10th straight home win.
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.