Daily News Alexander: ‘Frustrated’ Kings are on the edge of the playoff cliff

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  • Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, right, takes the puck...


    Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, right, takes the puck as Edmonton Oilers left wing Evander Kane reaches in during the first period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Sunday, April 28, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Los Angeles Kings right wing Viktor Arvidsson, center, tries to...


    Los Angeles Kings right wing Viktor Arvidsson, center, tries to get a shot past Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner, left, as center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins defends during the second period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Sunday, April 28, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Actor Will Ferrell, right, cheers as Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart...


    Actor Will Ferrell, right, cheers as Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner stands in goal during the second period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series between the Los Angeles Kings and the Oilers Sunday, April 28, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Actor Will Ferrell covers his ears as the crowd is...


    Actor Will Ferrell covers his ears as the crowd is asked to make noise during the first period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series between the Los Angeles Kings and the Edmonton Oilers Sunday, April 28, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner, left, makes a glove save...


    Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner, left, makes a glove save as Los Angeles Kings center Phillip Danault watches during the first period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Sunday, April 28, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

  • Edmonton Oilers right wing Corey Perry, center, tries to get...


    Edmonton Oilers right wing Corey Perry, center, tries to get a shot by Los Angeles Kings goaltender David Rittich, right, as defenseman Matt Roy defends during the first period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Sunday, April 28, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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LOS ANGELES – A goalie change almost worked for the Kings Sunday night. Almost.

The problem is that when you’re on the precipice of desperation in a playoff series, almost isn’t good enough.

David Rittich, the journeyman veteran who became a solid No. 2 to Cam Talbot after he was called up from the AHL Ontario Reign in December to replace the injured Pheonix Copley, started Game 4 against Edmonton with the Kings down 2-1 in the series. He played well, while facing only 13 shots, and the team in front of him played much better than it did in a 6-1 loss in Game 3 … but one power play goal pushed them to the edge of the cliff.

And so, after an excruciating 1-0 loss pushed the Oilers to a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, the Kings again face elimination at the hands of their historic tormentors Wednesday night in Edmonton.

And if the Kings wind up losing to the Oilers for the third straight season, blame special teams. The Oilers have scored on 8 of their 15 power plays this series, while the Kings are 0 for 11. Edmonton’s only goal Sunday was by Evan Bouchard on a second period power play after defenseman Andreas Englund, without his stick, had to wrestle Ryan McLeod to the ice in the Oilers’ offensive zone and was called for holding.

Bouchard was set up, of course, by Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Kings players and coaches likely will be seeing those two in their sleep for months after this playoff series ends, which could be as quickly as Wednesday night.

The goalie change was a calculated risk by coach Jim Hiller, after Talbot had given up 17 goals in the first three games. Some of that performance was on the goalie, some of that on the teammates in front of him, and some of it on the otherworldly skills of the guys in the other uniforms.

And sometimes, just the act of a goalie change galvanizes the rest of the team into playing harder.

“I don’t think we always gave Talbs the fairest of shakes,” Trevor Moore said. “I think we took way too many penalties and weren’t great in front of him.

“But Ritter was awesome, and he’s been that way for us all year. He gave us a really good chance tonight.”

The different look gave the Kings a chance largely because they outplayed the Oilers in most aspects of the game – a 33-13 edge in shots, a 41-27 edge in hits, and 17 blocked shots.

“I thought (Rittich) played well,” Hiller said. “I mean, the disappointing thing for him is no goalie’s going to win when we can’t score for him. So he did his job, there’s no question. And we just gotta – we had to score. So we’re not questioning David at all. (He) came in and did what he had to do.”

Now whether it’s good enough for him to get the start in Game 5 … that’s TBA. “We won’t make that decision yet,” Hiller said. “But he played well.”

This was the antithesis of the gong show that was the third period of Game 3, with fights and snarls and parades to the penalty box and two Oilers goals in 5-on-3 situations. Yet the effect ultimately was the same. There were two penalties called in Sunday’s game, total. Each team had one power play. Edmonton converted theirs. The Kings didn’t.

“It happens to a player, it happens to a power play – when you’re just not feeling it, (or) it’s not going your way, you’re probably pressing a little bit and not as relaxed and just letting plays happen,” Hiller said. “When you do that, you want to simplify it. But yeah, again, we’ll take a look at it. But those are good players, players who have produced on the power play, (so) we’re not going to beat it up too much here tonight.”

The margin between success and agony can be miniscule at this time of year.

And in fact, the most proper comparison to Sunday night’s game might require a trip to the record book. Fifty years ago this month, a Kings team in its seventh season of existence and making its first postseason appearance in five seasons lost in five games to Chicago in the first round, and Game 3 was a 1-0 loss at the Forum in which future Hall of Fame goaltender Rogie Vachon faced only 10 shots. Chicago’s Germain Gagnon scored 40 seconds into the game, and Blackhawks goalie Tony Esposito – also a future Hall of Famer – faced 32 shots, was under pressure all night and stopped them all.

Stuart Skinner might not make the Hall of Fame, but he did a relatively decent Espo imitation Sunday night, though the contemporary Kings didn’t apply nearly as much pressure as their 1974 ancestors did.

(And before you ask, yeah, I attended that game. Three-quarters of it was played in the end Esposito was defending, or so it seemed.)

The angst has to be similar now, and probably even more so given recent Kings-vs.-Oilers history. In fact, the first word out of Philip Danault’s mouth in his session with reporters was: “Frustrated, for sure.

“We got to play the same way,” he added. “And we got to make it difficult for them. Our backs are against the wall, so nothing to lose. We limited (them) to one power play, but they find a way. But we have to play the same exact way, and that’s got to give us a big chance.”‘

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Moore noted that the players had a little chat after the game, and the veteran leaders presumably reminded them to not let the frustration get in their heads.

“What are you gonna do?” Moore said. “We’re gonna wake up tomorrow and we’re gonna get back to work, and we need a better effort next game.”

Presumably, Danault was one of those who spoke. He recalled being part of a Montreal team that came back from a 3-1 deficit in 2021, his last season in Montreal, when the Canadiens trailed Toronto and rallied with 4-3, 3-2 and 2-1 victories, the first two in overtime, to eliminate their historic rivals in a first-round series. The Canadiens used that impetus to get to the Stanley Cup final but lost to Tampa Bay in five games.

“We came back,” Danault said. “So we got to believe and it’s got to be there. And the only thing is we gotta play the same exact way we did (Sunday night). The result we don’t control, but we’ll give ourselves the best chance.”

The leaders can provide inspiration with words. But it will take actions – especially on special teams – to bring this series back to L.A. Wednesday night.

jalexander@scng.com

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