1st round of NHL playoffs to see Oilers face familiar foes in ‘heated’ matchup against Kings

Click to play video: '2024 NHL Playoff Preview: Will a Canadian team finally end the 31-year Stanley Cup drought?'
2024 NHL Playoff Preview: Will a Canadian team finally end the 31-year Stanley Cup drought?
WATCH ABOVE: The Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs will be vying to end a 31-year Stanley Cup drought for Canadian NHL teams when the puck drops on the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs. Does hope spring eternal in the Great White North? Global’s Steve Autio has more in this 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs preview for all Canadian-based teams – Apr 19, 2024

It wasn’t until late Thursday evening on the final night of the NHL’s regular season that the Edmonton Oilers learned who they will be facing off against in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and finding out who their opponents will be must have felt like déjà vu for both players and fans.

For the third-straight year, the Oilers will face the Los Angeles Kings in the opening round of the postseason. When asked about Edmonton facing its fiercest rival from California yet again to start the playoffs, Reid Wilkins, the radio host of Oilers Hockey on 630 CHED, said fans could respond a number of ways.

“I guess it depends on which side of the fence you’re on,” he explained.

“Do you believe that a repeated playoff matchup helps build a rivalry and helps make it a little more heated for the two fanbases because you’re going against the same team over and over again and you’re building up that hatred? Or does the repetition get a little boring after what’s going to be three years in a row? Which leads to a bigger discussion about the playoff format and should they (the NHL) get rid of the divisions and all that kind of stuff, which I don’t think they’re going to do.”

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton Oilers fans getting ready for 1st round of Stanley Cup playoffs'
Edmonton Oilers fans getting ready for 1st round of Stanley Cup playoffs

While the Oilers have emerged victorious in their last two playoff series against the Kings, Los Angeles has proven to be a formidable opponent. The 2022 series required seven games to be played and last year needed six.

“I think the Oilers should be favoured (to win),” Wilkins said. “They had a better regular season, they have a lot of players having very good years — of course (captain Connor) McDavid, (centre Leon) Draisaitl. But (winger Zach)Hyman and (winger Warren) Foegele with career highs (in goals), I think they’re deeper at forward than they ever have been with Corey Perry coming in.

“Plus … they have another year of experience under their belts.”

The Oilers finished the 2023-24 regular season in second place in the Pacific Division with 104 points. The Kings were third in the division with 99 points. While both clubs have strengths in a number of areas, the Oilers are clearly more offensive, finishing the season as the NHL’s fourth-highest-scoring team while the Kings ranked 16th in goals scored.

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Los Angeles ranked third in the league when it comes to fewest goals allowed this season. The Oilers ranked 10th.

And on special teams, L.A.’s penalty killing was superior to the Oilers. The Kings’ penalty kill was ranked second in the NHL at 84.6 per cent while the Oilers finished 15th at 79.5 per cent. However, the Oilers’ power play continued to impress this season, finishing fourth in the league at 26.4 per cent while the Kings’ was ranked 12th at 22.6 per cent.

The Kings have developed a reputation for trying to frustrate their opponents by limiting their offensive chances on the rush.

“L.A. is a very good team,” Wilkins said. “We know that they like to clog up the neutral zone and make it hard for the Oilers that way.

“I think the biggest question mark for L.A. is goaltending. (Former Oiler) Cam Talbot’s had a very good career and obviously he had a really good run here in Edmonton, but I think that’s been one of the weaknesses for L.A. throughout the season.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton Oilers take on LA Kings, in what could be a playoff preview'
Edmonton Oilers take on LA Kings, in what could be a playoff preview

In 2022, the Oilers advanced to the Western Conference Final despite an injury Draisaitl sustained when he was taken down on a play by Kings defenceman Mikey Anderson. The Oilers’ dislike of Anderson has been evident in games the clubs have played against one another since, and Wilkins said he believes it “just adds to the rivalry.”

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“McDavid drilled Anderson from behind in a regular season game last year, so there’s a lot of history there,” he said.

“I think it can add to the temperature of a series but discipline is so important. Any player now that’s going out there looking for revenge or puts himself at risk of taking a silly penalty, that’s not going to help his team.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton Oilers eliminate L.A. Kings with 5-4 win in Game 6'
Edmonton Oilers eliminate L.A. Kings with 5-4 win in Game 6

Oilers power forward Evander Kane was also a key part of Edmonton’s success in that 2022 postseason. The winger has sat out Edmonton’s past three games to rest his body.

“Hopefully he’s healthy,” Wilkins said. “Apparently it’s nothing serious and he’ll be ready to go.

“They need him to be who he was — especially in the playoffs two years ago where he was a goal-scoring force and a physical force.”

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Wilkins noted that while Kane did have what some have described as “an up-and-down year,” he still finished the regular season with over 20 goals.

“His good games were good,” Wilkins noted. “He’s an important player.”

Los Angeles Kings’ Drew Doughty (8) and Edmonton Oilers’ Evander Kane (91) battle for the puck during second period NHL Stanley Cup first round playoff action in Edmonton on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch was hired early in the season to replace Jay Woodcroft who was fired after the club got off to a horrendous start. When asked whether the Oilers have become a more patient team under their new coach, and if that could help them against the Kings who like to stifle offence, Wilkins said the players seem to have “just kind of settled down a bit after Knoblauch took over.”

“I think probably patience, composure are a couple of things he helped with,” he said. “I think the experience of playing (against) them (Kings) for a couple of years will help, but I don’t want to overstate that either.

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“(Being favoured) may not mean much once the series starts, but I think it’s a team that the Oilers match up pretty well against.”

Game 1 of the series between the Oilers and Kings gets underway at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Monday night.

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