Daily News Kings’ playoff rivalry with the Oilers is now a trilogy


They see me rollin'. They hatin'.
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Ali vs Frazier. Holyfield vs Bowe. The Kings vs. the Edmonton Oilers?

In their third bout in three years, Anze Kopitar and Connor McDavid’s clubs might take their place among the storied heavyweight trilogies of all time, and this time all the punishment will be meted out on skates.

In each of the past two Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was the Kings left battered and dejected on the icy canvas when the final bell rang. The Oilers eliminated them in a seven-game slugfest in 2022, followed by a six-game affair punctuated by the flurries and combos of a historically efficient Edmonton power play last spring. All that – in addition to the Miracle on Manchester, the Wayne Gretzky trade and all the prior history – intensified this compelling rivalry, which will resume Monday night north of the border.

Both teams entered this campaign with enormous expectations, only to falter to the extent that they each needed to fire previously secure coaches. The Kings dismissed Todd McLellan in February, about three months after Edmonton had sacked his protégé, Jay Woodcroft.

The Kings managed to improve their record after the switch, limboing under the playoff bar and inching above a wild-card berth in their season finale. Edmonton, on the other hand, had the best point total in the NHL from Nov. 7 onward, encompassing most of the march that led to yet another grudge match with the Kings.

“We owe them,” Kings forward Quinton Byfield said. “But they’re a really good team, they added a lot of really great pieces at the deadline. They’re going to be a tough out for sure, but they’re a team that we really want to beat.”

The Kings were dormant at the deadline while Edmonton added depth with former Ducks forwards Adam Henrique and Sam Carrick as well as former Kings defenseman Troy Stetcher. The Kings had made their commitments early in the offseason, machinating relentlessly to add the disappointing Pierre-Luc Dubois. Perhaps their largest year-over-year boost was the emergence of Byfield, who scored 55 of his 88 career points in 2023-24.

Byfield led the Kings with six points in four meetings with the Oilers, across which they posted a 1-2-1 record during the regular season.

“Our regular-season games, you could tell how intense it was, how much we wanted each game and how much they wanted it as well. Playing them consistently in the playoffs sparked a rivalry,” Byfield said.

Byfield’s meteoric ascent this season came mostly in the middle of the schedule as he buoyed, barely, a ship that was taking on water in January and provided a steadying presence at just 21 years old after the Kings made a February coaching change. The new regime got off on the right foot with a 4-0 victory over Edmonton fueled by two goals and three points from Byfield on Feb. 10.

But Byfield crashed to earth down the stretch, only to score his first points in 10 matches and first goal in 20 games in the regular-season finale. His funk appeared finished as Byfield hit the net eight times in what Kings interim coach Jim Hiller called his best effort of the campaign.

“If he plays like he did tonight, he’s going to have a say in the series, for sure,” Kopitar said.

Another player Kopitar described as a “game-breaker” for both the Kings and the team he helped reach the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators, was winger Viktor Arvidsson. The Kings acquired Arvidsson from Nashville via trade before the 2021-22 season, but he and No. 1 defensemen Drew Doughty were both injured in 2022’s Edmonton series. Last year, both were healthy, with Arvidsson tying Kopitar for second on the team in playoff points, but injuries to Kevin Fiala, Blake Lizotte and the since-departed Gabe Vilardi cost the Kings seven man games from key players.

Arvidsson missed most of the regular season after undergoing back surgery and later sustaining a lower-body injury. But he, along with all but a couple of peripheral players for the Kings, is healthy now, having notched three points in the season-closing win and 10 points in nine April games.

“I’ve been working all year to get to this point. I feel ready, I’m confident in my game and my body. It’s going to be good,” Arvidsson said.

While their full ensemble was available, they vastly improved their penalty kill and several players were producing well individually – Arvidsson potentiated the already formidable duo of leading goal-scorer Trevor Moore and glue guy Phillip Danault while captain Kopitar and team MVP Kempe also excelled down the stretch – the Kings have been tremendously inconsistent overall.

Against Chicago, the NHL’s second-worst team, the Kings needed a win for seeding purposes, due to a feeble effort against another non-playoff team, Minnesota, in Game 81. They fell behind despite a lopsided early shot advantage, rallied to form a 3-1 edge and then nearly gave the game away by retroceding the lead on the back of three unanswered goals in the first 6:28 of the third period before rallying to win in overtime.

That was a fitting conclusion to a campaign that saw them look unbeatable on the road early en route to, at one point, being the top offense and top defense in the NHL statistically. But a midseason stretch with 14 losses in 16 decisions sharpened the guillotine for McLellan. The stretch run saw improvement and the reversal of a trend: The Kings were suddenly one of hockey’s most successful teams at home but won just four of their final dozen road games.

So where is your group’s game at presently, captain?

“We’re on a one-game winning streak, so we’re feeling pretty good,” said Kopitar, offering a bit of self-deprecating humor.

In addition to winning the regular-season series and posting the league’s best mark since less than a month into the season, the Oilers had gaudier individual performances than the Kings. Kempe paced the Kings with 75 points, but Edmonton had four players with higher totals: 54-goal scorer Zach Hyman and point-per-game defenseman Evan Bouchard joined perennial Art Ross Trophy chasers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid and Draisaitl repeated as 100-plus-point scorers from last season, though Ryan-Nugent Hopkins fell well short with 67 points.

Despite any disparities, the Kings now have a clean slate and a full reset, as Game 82 rolls over to Game 1.

“You’re always playoff-ready; it’s the best time of the year,” Kopitar said. “We’re going in, it’s a blank page, so let’s start writing on it.”

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Series schedule, all times PT

Game 1: Monday, at Edmonton, 7 p.m. (Bally Sports SoCal, ESPN2)

Game 2: Wednesday at Edmonton, 7 p.m. (Bally Sports West, TBS)

Game 3: Friday, April 26, at Crypto.com Arena, 7:30 p.m. (Bally Sports West, TBS)

Game 4: Sunday, April 28, at Crypto.com Arena, 7:30 p.m. (Bally Sports West, TBS)

Game 5 (if nec.): Wednesday, May 1, at Edmonton

Game 6 (if nec.): Friday, May 3, at Crypto.com Arena

Game 7 (if nec.): Sunday, May 5, at Edmonton

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