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Western Conference Quarterfinal
Los Angeles +183 over Edmonton
10:00 PM EST. OT included. Bless Mike Smith. Truly. Is there an athlete in the world today who plays such an important position, but lacks as much composure as Smith does? It’s not like he’s on the receiving end of some bad luck or an undeserved rough day at the office, Smith does it to himself again and again and again.
That wasn’t any more apparent in Game 1 of this series when Smith made a boneheaded move in the third period with the game tied 3-3. If you haven’t seen the clip already, it was classic Smith. He tried to play the puck behind the net with his team on its heels, made a terrible “pass” or clearing attempt (we’re not sure what he was doing, to be honest), and before Oiler fan could say, “Oh please no,” the puck was in the back of the net, 4-3 Kings. That’s how it would end.
As we suggested in our Game 1 write-up, the townsfolk are out with their pitchforks, ready to shovel Smith on the next train out of town. Smith was terrible to be sure, but his Oilers teammates were not much better. "There's obviously a lot of emotion with fans in the building, and excitement. I thought we just didn't handle it all that well.” That was Edmonton captain Connor McDavid after the defeat. Does that sound like a dude that is going to put three lines of deadweight on his back and lead his team out of a 0-1 hole? Smith’s postgame remarks weren’t much more inspiring, "It didn't go the way we wanted, but it's a long series and a long playoff if you want to get where we want to go. Nobody thought we'd win 16 straight, so it's some adversity in the series, but it's nothing we haven't dealt with before." Adversity? My man, that’s you. You are the adversity. That 16-game winning streak is worth bringing up again here, as it set the Oilers' postseason expectations higher than they probably should have been.
Prior to the puck drop of Game 1, the Oilers, who were better than 2-1 to win this series, were 17-1 to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. That’s a bit of a red flag, no? The Maple Leafs and Lightning who are expected to beat the crap out of each other in the Atlantic’s #2 versus #3 matchup were both 10-1. There’s no “guarantee” of either of those teams making it through Round 1. Meanwhile the Oilers were supposed to stroll right into Round 2.
How about Los Angeles? Well, the Kings ate up every opportunity the Oilers presented to them. Oh, by the way, L.A. dominated the puck possession to the extreme. They were by far the better team on the ice and it wasn’t even close. The Oilers may have outshot the Kings 39-35, but Los Angeles led in every meaningful underlying statistic you want to look at, including high danger scoring chances (11-to-6) and expected goals (2.45-to-1.86). When you dominate as the Kings did in Game 1, a line like this has to be disrespectful. Los Angeles proved it can not only hang with the McDavids, but that the Kings can dictate the pace of play.
On the surface, the temptation to back Edmonton is strong. The Oilers have arguably the two best players in the world and market consensus strongly trusts that the Oilers are not going to lose a second straight game at home. We’re not so sure that’s the right mindset. From our perch, the Oilers were already playing with a ton of pressure. Now you can multiply that pressure by about 100. Edmonton is going right back to Smith tonight, but it doesn't really have a choice. Combine everything and it makes the Oilers too rich a price and too risky a proposition to get behind them at this inflated price.
A pushback by the Oilers is not out of the question, but once again we’ll reiterate we’re not in the prediction business. The Kings have proven all year that they can play with and beat the Oilers. They proved that this stage is not too big. They proved that there is something to be said about balance and structure and one has to trust that they’ll be supremely motivated (and relaxed) to get back to the rink tonight, while the Oilers will be on pins and needles. One bad goal, one bad giveaway or one bad penalty might be enough to let the air out of Rogers Arena. The torches for the Oilers are already out, they just need a spark.
Los Angeles +183 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 3.66)