Kings fall to Oilers in a Game 4 shutout, moving to the brink of elimination

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The Kings needed a change in fortune Sunday, so they made a change in goal.

And while that changed the way the team played, it didn’t change the momentum of its best-of-seven Western Conference playoff series, with defenseman Evan Bouchard’s second-period power-play goal giving the Edmonton Oilers a 1-0 victory to send the series back to Canada for Game 5 on Wednesday with the Oilers holding a 3-1 edge.

The loss was only the sixth in 20 games for the Kings at home since the All-Star break. Two of those have come in the last four days against the Oilers, and Sunday’s loss could wind up being the last game at Arena this season with the Kings needing to win in Edmonton to avoid elimination.

“It’s frustrating. Probably disappointing is a really good word,” interim coach Jim Hiller said after the Kings played their best game of the series, yet had nothing to show for it. “We haven’t played this kind of game. This is the game we’ve got to take with us to Edmonton now. It’s the only choice we have.

“We didn’t get it done even though we had a pretty good crack at it.”

Given the stakes, Hiller really had no choice but to start David Rittich in goal. The Oilers overwhelmed regular goalie Cam Talbot in the first three games of the series, scoring 17 times.

It wasn’t all Talbot’s fault; seven of the goals he gave up came against the Kings’ once-vaunted penalty kill, which ranked second in the NHL during the regular season. Still, Hiller had to do something to change the direction of the series, so he gave Rittich his second career playoff start.

Rittich had previous success against Edmonton, going 5-5-1 with a 2.73 goals-against average in 13 games. And in February he shut out the Oilers, giving the Kings their only win over Edmonton in the regular season.

Rittich played well again Sunday, holding the explosive Oilers scoreless before Bouchard’s goal, his first of the playoffs, pushed the Kings to the wall.

“We have two days’ rest and we have no excuse. We have to come out the same exact way we did tonight and we’re gonna win,” center Phillip Danault said. “That’s the only way.”

The Kings did not make Rittich available to reporters afterward but his play — and several teammates — spoke for him.

“[He] was awesome,” forward Trevor Moore said. “And he’s been that way for us all year. He gave us a really good chance tonight.”

Edmonton, which has been exceptionally successful on the power play, had scored in every full period in the series until the first period Sunday when the Kings outshot them 10-4 and stayed out of the penalty box. And the start was a noticeable improvement from Game 3, when the Kings fell behind 3-0 in the first and were never in the game.

That all ended just after the midway point of the second period when Andreas Englund lost his stick and was called for a holding penalty. The Oilers needed only 63 seconds to make the Kings pay, with Bouchard scoring on a one-timer from well above the circle at 11:49 from a pass by Leon Draisaitl. Connor McDavid also had an assist, giving him a league-best nine in the postseason.

The goal was the Oilers’ eighth in 15 tries on the power play and it was a bad omen for the Kings since the team that scored first won each of the first three games in the series. That trend held Sunday, partly because the Kings rarely tested Edmonton goaltender Stuart Skinner.

Although they outshot the Oilers 33-13, Skinner was forced into only a handful of uncomfortable saves — none of which came on the Kings’ only power play, midway through the third period. The Kings have failed to score in 11 power-play opportunities in the series and have scored only once in consecutive playoff games at home.

Sunday’s shutout, Skinner’s first in the postseason, was also the first in the playoffs against the Kings since Game 2 of their first-round series with the Oilers in 2022. Edmonton won that game 6-0 and won the series in seven games.

The Oilers eliminated the Kings in the first round last year in six games. On Wednesday, Edmonton will have a chance to win this series in five games. The Kings, it seems, are in danger of going backward.

“We put everything we had into that game,” Moore said about Sunday’s Game 4. “But that’s the playoffs. It is what it is. It’s just about how you can rebound and how you can replicate it.

“You’re not out of it. You’ve got to win the next game and then you’re coming back home. So that’s our focus.”

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