Long ago, it was as if the Kings faced the Edmonton Oilers almost every year in the playoffs in the bygone days of the Smythe Division. It wasn’t, of course.
There was The Miracle (over Manchester) 40 years ago, followed by playoff rounds against Edmonton in 1985, 1987, 1989 (average miracle), 1990, 1991 and 1992.
(The average miracle took place when the Kings rallied from a 3-1 deficit against Edmonton in 1989, a moving series featuring the #1 storyline of Wayne Gretzky playing against his former Oilers teammates for the first time in the playoffs).
But nothing against the Oilers since 1992.
Incidentally, I covered part of the 1991 series for a spunky all-sports startup called The National Sports Daily, and by 1992 it was gone. Now, with colleagues from Edmonton, we’ll be covering the Kings-Oilers series for an all brave sports site.
It will be the first time since Athleticism kicked off in Los Angeles in June 2018 that the Kings will make the playoffs, meeting the Oilers in the first round, which became official Tuesday night. Their most recent playoff game was the series finale against the Golden Knights on April 17, 2018.
In other words, a long time ago.
Here are some thoughts, observations and, yes, predictions as we patiently await Game 1 of the playoffs. The Kings won 5-3 at Seattle on Wednesday, which was their fifth straight victory and puts them on 98 points. They have one regular season game left in Vancouver on Thursday.
1. It should be noted that from the day camp opened, the mood was very different at Kings HQ in El Segundo.
“Absolutely,” Kings center Blake Lizotte said. “Anytime you bring in new players – Phil Danault, a huge difference maker for our team and Viktor Arvidsson – when you bring in big names like that, there’s definitely more buzz.
“It’s a credit to the organization and the depth we have. There are players pushing from the American League and guys who just got drafted, so that just adds to the overall competitiveness of camp and practice.
“When you’re on that long trip and you’re tired, you have that (little) extra in the gas tank. Honestly, I think that’s how a lot of good teams succeed, players push each other, and our team is a great example of that.
2. The Kings had three players in COVID-19 protocol — Drew Doughty, Cal Petersen and Danault — when they completed a lengthy trip to Washington on Dec. 19.
In fact, they had to bring in AHL Ontario cross country goaltender Garret Sparks so he could start against the Capitals because Jonathan Quick played at Carolina on Dec. 18.
It was one of the prime examples of the Kings’ resilience this season. In Washington, they rallied to win 3-2, after trailing 2-0, revived by Lizotte’s shorthanded goal late in the second period to cut the lead to 2-1.
“We talk about it at the rink,” said Lizotte. “There are always a handful of games every year that define things – it could be your individual season or the team season or your position in the standings.
“That Washington game was one of them. We weren’t necessarily playing our best hockey. We had guys with COVID and the flu. We found a way to win there.
3. Lizotte pointed to another game — Feb. 2 in Detroit, a 5-3 Kings win. He identified it as another turning point of the season.
“It was right before the all-star break,” he said. “We talked in the locker room and said, ‘Guys, this is a game we need if we’re going to make the playoffs. We were at the end of our road trip.
“Those last two points in Detroit were huge for us. I think it shows the character of our team this year. When the coaches or the management asked us to put it in place, we had the guys in the room to answer the call and prove that we deserve to be in this position, to make these games.
“Even in the beginning if you lose a few of those key games that you really need, all of a sudden the complexion of the whole season really changes. In the end, for our team, it came down to a handful of games we’ve been lucky enough to win.”
4. Defenseman Sean Durzi didn’t make his NHL debut until Nov. 24, but he leads the Kings in shot blocks — 115 in 63 games, 12 more than Matt Roy, who has played 67 games.
Durzi referred to goalkeepers, Quick and Petersen.
“Those are the first two I hear when I block a shot,” Durzi said earlier this week. “And those are the guys I do it for, mostly. Communication is huge.
5. Landing a playoff berth allowed the Kings to tinker with the roster and rest some tired veterans in Seattle. Absent: forwards Anze Kopitar, Adrian Kempe, Dustin Brown and Alex Iafallo. In: forwards Brendan Lemieux, Gabriel Vilardi, Rasmus Kupari and Lias Andersson.
Vilardi hadn’t played since April 13 and put in a solid performance, scoring once and adding two assists.
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) April 28, 2022
Andersson scored the go-ahead goal, giving the Kings a 4-3 third-period lead, which was his first of the season, after a no-look pass from Lemieux.
— HockeyStatCards (@hockeystatcards) April 28, 2022
6. Two other changes have been made on the back-end. Seated were Alex Edler and Olli Maatta. Defender Tobias Bjornfot, who had been out of harm’s way since April 10, was back, and defender Mikey Anderson, activated off injured reserve earlier in the day, played his first game since March 7 and was paired with Roy .
— Bally Sports West (@BallySportWest) April 28, 2022
Anderson didn’t make the roster at all, playing a record 24 minutes, 27 seconds and had one assist and four hits against the Kraken.
7. Congratulations to Kings defenseman Jordan Spence, who was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team on Wednesday. With Ontario reigning, he was close to a point-per-game player with 42 points (four goals, 38 assists) in 46 games.
He’s gotten used to being ahead of his schedule for most of his sporting life.
Spence, who was drafted in the fourth round in 2019 (No. 95), made his NHL debut on March 10 and has been on the Kings roster ever since.
8. You always learn something in chats – however brief – with Kings radio play-by-play man and Hall of Famer Nick Nickson.
Nickson said in practice that it would be the Kings’ first time against the Oilers in May. They nearly reached May twice against the Oilers, losing April 28 in the 1991 Division Finals and April 28 in the 1992 Division Semifinals.
The Kings have played in June three times – losing in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993 and winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014.
9. A lot of my colleagues don’t like to make predictions. I am firmly in this category unless asked (nicely).
Fortunately, our friends on the TV side are happy to help.
Ray Ferraro of TSN and ESPN played 197 regular season games with the Kings and three games in a playoff series, in which the Kings were swept 4-0 by the St. Louis Blues in 1998. Prior to that, he played triggered the New York Islanders to the Conference Finals in 1993, losing to eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal.
“I think the Oilers in six,” Ferraro said. “They’re playing a more playoff-adaptable game than in previous years.”
ten. Craig Button, also of TSN, has arrived from Munich where he is covering the U18 World Championship in Germany.
“Oilers for the win,” he said.
Kevin Weekes of ESPN and NHL Network said the key is Oilers goaltender Mike Smith.
“If Smith stays healthy, which is critical, Oilers in 7,” Weekes texted. “If not healthy all series, Kings in 6.”
He added: “Todd McLellan Bowl.”
11. A former NHL general manager was succinct about the Kings-Oilers series and why it was chosen:
“Kings, Jonathan Quick.
(Photo of Jonathan Quick defending against the Kraken in Seattle: Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images)