Stopped dead in the water, Oilers must navigate ups and downs of Kings series

Jonathan Quick had a 31-save shutout and the Los Angeles Kings scored twice in the first period to secure a 4-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers and even their first-round playoff series at 2-2.

LOS ANGELES – In the morning calm, Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft talked about the ability of his team to manage swells and troughs, and not let their emotions ride the steep waves of winning and losing.

Sunday, they were caught in a Los Angeles typhoon.

We won’t know how well they’ve navigated until their next playoff game, on Tuesday. But in losing 4-0 to the Kings, the Oilers were nothing like the deep, offensively-dominant team they had looked like the previous two games. They lost their National Hockey League playoff series lead along with Game 4.

The shutout represented a massive 10-goal swing from Edmonton’s 8-2 win in Game 3 on Friday. The Oilers stopped dead in the water, and now face a best-of-three with the first-round Stanley Cup series tied 2-2.

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Woodcroft doesn’t believe momentum carries over from game to game. We’ll see about confidence.

“It’s one game at a time for us and today we dropped a game,” the coach said late Sunday. “It’s a missed opportunity, and that’s what it is. As I said, we’ll do our work, we’ll digest the game and give our players something that will be a focal point heading into Game No. 5.

“I just didn’t think we skated at the level we needed to skate at. I didn’t think our (puck) battles and stick fights were where they needed to be. We have to be better, we’re capable of more.”

He added: “We can be better and to a man and we will be.”

Under the circumstances, it would be difficult to be worse.

The Oilers were outshot 20-10 in the first period, when the Kings scored twice and essentially won the game, and were stuck on three shots for a long stretch of the second period. They didn’t do nearly enough in the first half of the game to make things uncomfortable for Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick, who posted a 31-save shutout after getting hooked early in the second period on Friday.

Edmonton’s lethal power play, a playoffs-leading 5-for-11 before Sunday, failed to get the team out of jail, finishing 0-for-3.

“I think it’s the same thing across the board — penalty kill, five-on-five, power play — it’s just working,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. “I mean, we’ve got to outwork those guys. They were working on their penalty kill tonight and didn’t give us as many looks. Quick stood in and, five-on-five, same thing. We’ve got to find a way to break him down. But at the end of the day, it’s just about working.

“I’m just going to keep pounding on it — it’s just going to come down to work.”

The Oilers should hope it comes down to something more because work rate is one of the few areas where Los Angeles can match Edmonton, which has a deeper, more talented team, as well as two of the best five players on the planet.

But Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl combined Sunday for just four shots on goal. And Edmonton’s top defenceman, Darnell Nurse, woefully defended a third-period one-on-one against Carl Grundstrom, who got past the Oiler, was tackled and fell into Edmonton goalie Mike Smith, knocking the puck across the line for a good goal and 3-0 lead.

“He was strong. Made a good play,” Nurse explained succinctly.

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Grundstrom, who did not dress for Game 3, added an empty-netter and finished with three points.

The Kings opened scoring 8:03 into the game when Phillip Danault deked Smith to the ice before reversing the puck to Trevor Moore for a gimme. Defenceman Evan Bouchard allowed the puck to bounce past him to Danault in the slot a few seconds after clearance hit the referee, keeping the puck along the side boards.

Dressing for the first time in the playoffs, defenceman Troy Stecher made it 2-0 for the Kings at 14:03 when Oiler Duncan Keith tried to play the Kings’ shot with his stick and deflected it between Smith’s pads. Los Angeles equalled in six minutes their offensive output from all of Games 2 and 3.

The Kings yielded 14 goals in those six periods, none in the three periods on Sunday.

Swells and troughs.

“It’s not. . . Champions League soccer where there’s an aggregate,” Woodcroft told reporters Sunday morning. “Your job is to win four games in a playoff series. The scores of the games are irrelevant. You just want to make sure you’re continuing to grow your game and find a way to win.

“But what I like about our team is our ability to return to baseline, not to get too caught up in swells. Returning to baseline is something that we’ve talked about for the last two-and-a-half  months.”

It has never been as important as it is now.

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