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Edmonton Oilers seek a rebound after the playoff win that got away

EDMONTON – History repeating itself is the next goal for the Edmonton Oilers.

A pair of squandered two-goal leads in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings isn’t how the Oilers intended to open their first-round playoff series.

Edmonton has been here before, however, and recently. The Oilers also dropped their opener to the Kings last year — 4-3 in regulation — and rebounded with a 6-0 win in Game 2.

The Oilers certainly don’t want to leave home without a split. The best-of-seven affair heads to Los Angeles following Wednesday’s Game 2 at Rogers Place.

“The past doesn’t predict the future here,” Edmonton captain Connor McDavid said Tuesday.

“I like what we did last year in Game 2. We’ve played well in game twos historically, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot come puck drop Wednesday, but it’s a big one for us and I would look to see some urgency.”

Kings forward Gabe Vilardi, who scored 23 goals for L.A. this season, skated Tuesday after missing the last nine games of the regular season with an upper-body injury.

Any notion one side has a distinct upper hand over the other in this year’s rematch evaporated in the Game 1 tussle.

Edmonton played smart, skilful hockey for two periods and led 2-0 after 40 minutes.

The Kings wriggled off the hook, however, with Adrian Kempe’s timely goals and Anze Kopitar’s last-minute heroics.

Kopitar scored the power-play equalizer with just 16.7 seconds left in regulation.

“We were 15 seconds away from winning,” McDavid said. “We’d like to find a way to close it out. I keep saying that. I don’t know how many more times I can say that, but they find a way to bang one in.”

Kopitar was the more productive captain with a four-point night.

“He’s got a steady hand for the group and for himself as a player,” Kings head coach Todd McLellan said. “Doesn’t mean he lacks competitiveness because deep down, it’s burning.”

McDavid drew a pair of penalties that led to a 5-on-3 goal, but the NHL’s leading scorer was held off the scoresheet by a combination of Kings that included the top defensive pair of Drew Doughty and Mikey Anderson.

Rogers Place adopted Doughty as the series villain. He said before Game 1 that because of McDavid’s hit on his defensive partner back in March “if we get a chance to smack him, we’re going to try to do that.”

Boos rolled through the arena when Doughty touched the puck, even before he knocked McDavid over near the Los Angeles bench in the third period.

“It’s kind of funny,” Anderson said. “Talking to him, he seems to thrive in environments like that and it usually fires him up. It makes it fun to see him get a little juice from it.”

Leon Draisaitl’s anticipation and agility produced Edmonton’s first and third goals. The Oilers blocked more shots than Los Angeles for two periods and met the Kings’ first-period hostility with their own.

But giving six chances to the Kings’ fourth-ranked power play was largely the Oilers’ undoing in Game 1.

Defenceman Vincent Desharnais arguably didn’t commit the overtime tripping minor that Alex Iafallo turned into a game-winning goal, because Blake Lizotte appeared to slip on a broken stick on the ice.

But Evan Bouchard’s high-sticking penalty with less than two minutes to go was ruinous. It gave Los Angeles two extra attackers with Joonas Korpisalo out of his net.

“The nice thing about playoff hockey is you can get right back at it,” Oilers winger Zach Hyman said. “You’ve got to be able to temper emotions and temper the roller-coaster. We’ve had experience with losing game ones and being able to come back.

“You’ve got to get off the roller-coaster on days like this in between, and look at things rationally and evaluate the game and what you need to do to make the next one better. And then vice versa, when you win a game, you’ve got to get off the roller-coaster and re-evaluate.”

Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner made 31 saves in his NHL playoff debut in his hometown.

“I thought I was pretty average,” Skinner said. “I wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t amazing. I know I have a lot better to do, and that’s very exciting.

‘I think it was very important for me to, especially today, to wake up and realize that it’s behind me. Can’t do anything about it. And it’s a good thing that I was able to go through that because now I’m a better man for it.“

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2023.

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