Angeles Analysis – Game 2

In the end there was something almost inevitable about how this one was going to end. Or rather, something inevitable about who was going to be involved in bringing about the ending.

And sure enough, even though Mikey Anderson would later admit it was a terrible pass, and Quinton Byfield admitted that he was just trying to get his stick on the puck so it wasn’t going to be icing, all of a sudden there was LA Kings captain Anze Kopitar gathering in the loose puck in the Edmonton zone, skating in alone and snapping the puck home past Edmonton netminder Stuart Skinner to secure a 5-4 overtime win for the Kings.

“I was like come on please go in,” Byfield said after. “I was praying. But you know, I knew it was going in, he’s lights out on breakaways so I was confident.”

The dramatic win evened this first-round series at one game apiece with the next two games in Los Angeles where the Kings have compiled the best home record in the NHL since the All Star break.

Kopitar simply smiled when asked about the play that abruptly ended Game 2 just 2:07 into overtime.

He wasn’t exactly sure how the puck got to him.

“But I figured I’d make the most of it,” the captain said.

Much has been said and written about the depth of this Kings team. And at some point that depth may become the determining factor in the series.

But on a night when the Kings absolutely needed to rebound after a disappointing 7-4 loss in Game 1, it was the team’s leaders, the team’s best players, the players who are expected to set the tone and deliver the goods, who did just that pacing the team to an absolutely critical win.

“We all didn’t feel good about our first game so we had a lot to prove this game and I think everyone stepped up their game, Kopi led the way,” said Byfield who had two assists. “Leaders lead. That’s what we did and just followed them.”

This win, like so many playoff games between these two teams over the past two-plus playoff seasons, wasn’t a straight line.

It was the Kings’ leaders who set the tone early and often.

Kopitar set up line-mate Adrian Kempe for two first-period goals with artful passes. The second goal Kempe whacked out of mid-air and past Skinner.

Drew Doughty scored the third goal of the first period for the Kings just 29 seconds after the Oilers got on the board to give L.A. a 3-1 lead through the first period.

It wouldn’t be enough, though.

As good as the Kings were in the first the Oilers were better in the second, erasing the two-goal lead with a power play goal by Zach Hyman and the first of two by Dylan Holloway.

When defenseman Matt Roy took a delay of game penalty for sending the puck out of play with exactly two minutes left in the second period the decibel level at Rogers Place went through the roof.

The Oilers and their fans could sense that another power play marker might rewrite the narrative of the game and by extension the entire series.

They might have been right. Had the Oilers taken advantage and gone into the third period with a one-goal lead, well, let’s just say it did feel like the scales were definitely tilting in the Oilers’ direction.

It didn’t happen that way, though, and it didn’t happen that way because Kings netminder Cam Talbot willed his team through that penalty kill.

Three times in the waning seconds of the Edmonton power play Talbot denied Leon Draisaitl from the left of the Kings’ goal.

The final save, as time ticked away at the end of the period and the penalty, was a thing of beauty as Talbot went right to left to deny the talented Oiler center.

“That’s as good a save as you’re going to see,” head coach Jim Hiller said.

It was worth noting that after Kopitar sealed the deal with his overtime snipe the on-ice celebration took place in two locations, around Kopitar in the far corner of the ice but a group of Kings players immediately mobbed Talbot as he made his way out of the Kings net.

He had earned it.

“I mean we talked after last game that our PK needed to be better and I said that it started with me so I was just trying to do everything I could to keep the puck out of the net there not give them any momentum going into the third period,” said Talbot who finished with 27 saves.

The Kings and Oilers traded goals less than two minutes apart early in the third period – Kevin Fiala, another skilled player on whom the Kings are counting – had the L.A. marker on a sharp one-timer.

But instead of growing frustrated by the see-saw nature of the game the Kings were the better team throughout the third period and that momentum carried into the win early in overtime.

“Great response by our group,” Talbot said. “Every single time that we did give it up (the lead) we never hung our heads and said, ‘oh poor me’. We went out there and we finished the job.”

What did it feel like for Talbot to see Kopitar close out the game?

He paused for a second.

“Relief,” he said.

We talk about these kinds of intangibles in the playoffs all the time. The notion that a team’s best players have to be at their best if teams want to advance.

It’s not overstating it to suggest that Game 2 was a must-win for the Kings even as good as they have been at home.

And while it’s one thing to identify the mistakes that plagued the team in Game 1 it is quite another to so impressively execute the game plan that allowed the team to erase those mistakes and now put the pressure on the Oilers to have to win on the road.

By the end of the night McDavid, who had five assists in Game 1, had one assist. He had one shot on goal and five shot attempts.

The Oilers were 1-for-3 on the power play after going 3-for-4 in Game 1.

That the Kings’ best players were at the forefront in guiding the team to a critical split in the series is what you hope for. To have it become the reality is the stuff of Stanley Cup dreams and certainly was a happy outcome for the coaching staff.

“I’ve said it before, we have a lot of veteran players, a lot of guys who’ve done a lot of winning, so you need that to have that kind of poise and as you mentioned just focus refocus,” Hiller said.

“It is emotional. It is emotional for everyone, fans, us coaches, the players did a really good job of just calming themselves and going about their business,” he added. “Veteran leadership, guys who have won, guys who have been to the finals, we’ve got a number of those guys too, really make a difference in that situation.”

Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

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