How the Oilers overcame hard-charging Kings to win Game 4: 5 observations

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LOS ANGELES – The Edmonton Oilers will head home with the second round on their minds and a raucous crowd preparing for a celebration.

Stuart Skinner stopped 33 shots for his first career playoff shutout and Evan Bouchard snapped a scoreless tie with a second-period goal to lift the Oilers to a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings in Game 4 on Sunday night at Arena.

The Oilers now hold a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and can eliminate the Kings for the third straight postseason with one more victory. Game 5 is Wednesday.

Bouchard provided the only support Skinner would need, as Edmonton made its only power play count with a goal. Meanwhile, the Kings did nothing with their only power-play chance and dropped to 0-for-11 over the first four games. Viktor Arvidsson managed only one shot attempt, which was blocked. The Kings played their best game of the series from a territorial standpoint but could not put a dent in Skinner, who was sound from start to finish.

The Kings’ best chance in the first two periods came in the second, when Matt Roy pushed a shot inches wide after Phillip Danault gave him a pass from behind the net. Arvidsson started the pressure-based shift with a wraparound try that Skinner stopped, but the winger managed to keep possession.

Early on, Los Angeles got its forecheck going and controlled play. It held a 10-4 shots advantage after the first period but the Oilers defended well and Skinner was on his game.

Oilers’ power play keeps humming

Special teams have been the story of the series, the biggest reason why the Oilers have command of it. They were the deciding factor again on Sunday.

The Oilers were afforded just one power play through the first two periods, but they made it count. Connor McDavid started the sequence with a cross-seam pass to Leon Draisaitl, who fed Evan Bouchard at the point. With Kings goaltender David Rittich having just moved to his left, Bouchard unleashed a wicked one-timer that went just inside the far post — a perfectly placed shot.

Letting Bouchard bomb away seemed like a smart strategy for the Oilers, considering what looked like lousy ice conditions in Los Angeles.

The Oilers improved to 8-for-15 in the series and 24-for-50 over the last three series between the two teams — a staggering 48-percent success rate.

They were also a perfect 10-for-10 before Sunday on the penalty kill and thwarted the Kings’ only power play on Sunday.

Skinner stands tall

For the second straight game, the Oilers played an excellent brand of defense in front of goaltender Stuart Skinner. And he once again responded in kind.

Skinner wasn’t tested with a plethora of grade-A chances, but he turned aside each of the 33 pucks that he faced — and slammed the door shut on the Kings in the third period. Skinner has stopped 60 of 61 shots over the last two games, providing the steady netminding this team needs to be successful.

The games in Los Angeles represented a noticeable improvement from Skinner compared the first two contests in Edmonton. Yes, Skinner was done in by a few unfortunate bounces, but he did allow nine goals on just 63 shots.

The good Skinner — the one who was a Calder Trophy finalist and had Vezina Trophy-level stats from late November onward — has re-emerged.

McDavid reaches another milestone

No, it wasn’t a dominating game for McDavid, the type he so often has in the playoffs that have helped build his already sure-fire Hockey Hall of Fame case. But he did record that power-play assist to join some elite company.

McDavid has now registered at least 10 points in five different playoff series in his career. He’s one of just eight players in NHL history to do that. The others on the list are Wayne Gretzky (21 times), Mark Messier (eight), Denis Savard (seven), Mario Lemieux (six) and Joe Sakic, Doug Gilmour and Peter Stastny — who each did it five times like McDavid.

The Oilers’ captain truly is an all-timer.

Goaltending move for Kings doesn’t prove costly

Kings coach Jim Hiller stressed that Cam Talbot allowing 16 goals in the first three games wasn’t the result of his poor play, but the turn to David Rittich clearly was about providing a change of pace against the Oilers and trying to give his club an added spark from the net.

Rittich hadn’t played since blanking Minnesota on April 13, but he showed no rust from the outset. The Kings did well to limit chances, but the 31-year-old netminder was sharp when he needed to be. His best save in the opening period was a left leg stop to turn away Draisaitl on a rush. The Oilers eventually got to him midway through the second on Bouchard’s power-play blast.

The move was a gamble by Hiller, as Rittich was making just his third career playoff appearance and his second start. The others were ones to forget.

With Calgary in 2020, Rittich replaced Talbot in Game 6 and allowed three goals on nine shots in a 7-3 loss as the Stars eliminated the Flames. And his other start came for Nashville in 2022 against Colorado. He was pulled in Game 1 of a 7-2 defeat after giving up five goals on 13 shots.

But Rittich had a strong season as L.A.’s backup, one that had three shutouts and included a 4-0 blanking of Edmonton on Feb. 10. He did his job along with a lot of help from his defensively committed teammates, allowing only one goal on XX shots.

Kings throw their weight around

Poor starts plagued the Kings in their Game 1 and Game 3 defeats. Some kind of response was needed to begin Game 4. While it didn’t show up on the scoreboard, the Kings brought a decidedly more physical edge to their game in the opening 20 minutes and did it without marching to the penalty box.

Quinton Byfield started the game with a strong forecheck on Bouchard. The Kings took his lead and put their bodies on the Oilers’ stars. Drew Doughty knocked McDavid off his edge and drilled Zach Hyman as the winger spun around. Adrian Kempe fended off a McDavid rush with an excellent positional defensive play. Draisaitl got dumped in the offensive zone and looked for a call that he didn’t get.

The Kings mixed in some strong work in front of the net, which kept the crease clear for Rittich, who only had to make four stops in the first period. It was the kind of defensive period the Kings needed after being blitzed to open Game 3. They were credited with 23 hits, and those were done with the right purpose in mind — to disrupt the Oilers and play the game more at their pace.

(Photo: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

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