Kings battled adversity to reach playoffs. Plus: Hockey pundits make some predictions

Long ago, it felt like the Kings were playing the Edmonton Oilers almost every year in the playoffs on those bygone Smythe Division days. That wasn’t the case, of course.

There was The Miracle (on Manchester) 40 years ago, followed by playoff rounds against Edmonton in 1985, 1987, 1989 (medium miracle), 1990, 1991 and 1992.

(The medium miracle was when the Kings rallied from a 3-1 series deficit against Edmonton in 1989, an emotional series featuring the No. 1 plot line 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 plucky all-sports start-up called The National Sports Daily, and by 1992, it was no longer in existence. Now, along with colleagues in Edmonton, we will be covering the Kings-Oilers series for a plucky all-sports site.

This will be the first time since The Athletic launched in Los Angeles in June 2018 that the Kings will be participating in the playoffs, meeting the Oilers in the playoff’s opening round, which became officially 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 a few thoughts, observations and, yes, predictions while we patiently wait for the first game of the playoffs. The Kings won 5-3 at Seattle on Wednesday, which was their fifth straight victory and put them at 98 points. They have one regular-season game remaining, at Vancouver on Thursday.

1. It’s worth noting that from the opening day of camp, the vibe felt wildly different at Kings HQ in El Segundo.

“Absolutely,” King Center Blake Lizotte said. “Any time you bring in some new players – Phil Danault, a huge difference-maker for our team and Viktor Arvidsson – when you bring in some big-name guys like that, there’s definitely more of a buzz.

“It’s a credit to the organization and the depth we have. There are players pushing from the American League and guys just getting drafted, so it just adds to the overall competitiveness to camp and practice.

“When you’re on that long road trip and you’re tired, you have that extra (bit) in the gas tank. Honestly, I think that’s how a lot of good teams succeed, having players push each other, and our team is a great example of that. ”

2. The Kings had three players in the COVID-19 protocol – Drew Doughty, Cal Petersen and Danault – when they were wrapping up a long trip to Washington on Dec. 19.

In fact, they had to bring in goalie Garret Sparks, cross country from AHL Ontario, so he could start against the Capitals because Jonathan Quick had played at Carolina on Dec. 18.

This was one leading example of the Kings’ resilience this season. In Washington, they rallied to win 3-2, having trailed 2-0, jump-started by Lizotte’s short-handed goal late in the second period to cut the lead to 2-1.

“We talk about it at the rink,” Lizotte said. “There’s always a handful of games each year that define things – it might be your individual season or the team’s season or where you’re at the standings.

“That Washington game was one of them. We weren’t necessarily playing our best hockey. We had guys out with COVID and the flu. We found a way to win there. ”

3. Lizotte highlighted another game – Feb. 2 at Detroit, a 5-3 win by the Kings. He identified it as another turning point in the season.

“It was just before the All-Star break,” he said. “We talked in the locker room and said, ‘Guys, this is a game we need if we want 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 that just goes to show the character of our team this year. When we’ve been called upon to put it together by coaches or management, we’ve had the guys in the room to answer the call and prove we deserve to be in this position, coming through with those games.

“Even early on, if you lose a couple of those key games that you really need, all of a sudden, the complexion of the whole season really changes. Ultimately, for our team, it came down to a handful of games that we were lucky enough to win. ”

4. Defender Sean Durzi didn’t make his NHL debut until Nov. 24, but he leads the Kings in shot blocking – 115 in 63 games, which is 12 more than Matt Roy, who has played in 67 games.

Durzi referenced the goalies, Quick and Petersen.

“They 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, for the most part. Communication is huge. ”

5. Clinching a playoff spot afforded the Kings the chance to tinker with the lineup and rest some weary veterans in Seattle. Out: 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 had a strong performance, scoring once and adding two assists.

Andersson scored the go-ahead goal, giving the Kings a 4-3 lead in the third period, which was his first of the season, coming off a no-look pass from Lemieux.

6. Two other changes were made on the back end. Sitting out were Alex Edler and Olli Maatta. Defender Tobias Bjornfot, a healthy scratch since April 10, was back in, and defender Mikey Anderson, activated off injured reserve earlier in the day, played his first game since March 7, and was paired with Roy.

Anderson wasn’t eased into the lineup at all, playing a game-high 24 minutes 27 seconds and had one assist and four hits against the Kraken.

7. Kudos to Kings defenseman Jordan Spence, who was named to the AHL’s All-Rookie Team on Wednesday. With the Ontario Reign he was close to a point-a-game player with 42 points (four goals, 38 assists) in 46 games.

He has made a habit of being ahead of schedule 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 a fixture in the Kings ’lineup ever since.

8. You always learn something in chats – even brief ones – with Kings radio play-by-play man and Hall of Famer Nick Nickson.

Nickson was saying at practice how it would be the first time the Kings faced the Oilers in May. They almost got to May twice against the Oilers, losing on April 28 in the division final in 1991 and on April 28 in the division semifinal in 1992.

The Kings have played in June three times – losing in the Stanley Cup Final in 1993 and winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014.

9. A lot of my colleagues don’t like making predictions. I’m firmly in that category unless asked (nicely) to do so.

Thankfully, 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 one playoff series, in which the Kings were swept 4-0 by the St. Louis Blues in 1998. Before that, he sparked the New York Islanders to the conference final in 1993, losing to eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal.

“I think the Oilers in six,” Ferraro said. “They play a more playoff adaptable game than prior (years).”

10. Craig Button, also of TSN, checked in 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 keyyyyy, Oilers in 7,” Weekes texted. “If he’s not healthy all series, Kings in 6.”

He added: “Todd McLellan Bowl.”

11. One former NHL general manager was succinct about the Kings-Oilers series and his reason for the pick:

“Kings, Jonathan Quick.”

(Photo of Jonathan Quick defending against the Kraken in Seattle: Christopher Mast / NHLI via Getty Images)

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