May 23, 2024

At 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Blake Lizotte is the smallest player on either side of the Kings-Oilers playoff series.

Unlike Oilers superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who are former first-round draft picks and Hart Trophy winners, Lizotte has had to fight to keep his place in the NHL. Undrafted out of high school, he played first in the amateur USHL before going to college, then went undrafted again before signing an entry-level contract with the Kings.

But if McDavid, arguably the best player in the NHL, typifies the skill and grace with which the high-flying Oilers play, then Lizotte represents the blue-collar, lunch-bucket approach that defines the Kings.

“That’s our identity,” said Lizotte, who centers the Kings’ fourth line. “Look at their two guys over there, 100-plus points. We don’t even have a 90-point guy. I think that’s part of our team identity, to play a little more grinder-ish.”

So what if the Kings are a loss away from elimination entering Game 5 of their best-of-seven first-round Western Conference series Wednesday in Edmonton? If you’re a grinder, odds don’t matter. Lizotte’s very presence in the NHL proves that grit and tenacity can overcome glamour and talent.

And if the Kings are to come back from a 3-1 series deficit, the undersized Lizotte will have to play an outsized role.

“The playoffs usually are a grind. So you have to make sure that you play that style,” Kings interim coach Jim Hiller said. “We just have to play it better.”

The Kings scored only once in two home games and are on the brink of losing a first-round series to the Oilers for the third consecutive season. In 2022, they lost in seven games. In 2023, they lost in six games. Another loss Wednesday, and they’ll be out in five.

The Kings aren’t progressing, they’re going backward — and blame for their regression can be shared.

Trevor Moore, the Kings’ leading goal scorer in the regular season, has scored only once in the playoffs. Anze Kopitar has a goal and two assists, but all of his points came in the same game. And center Pierre Luc-Dubois, the team’s big offseason signing, has been credited with only one shot in the last three games.

Kings forward Blake Lizotte, right, skates in front of Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brett Kulak during Game 4 on Sunday.

Kings forward Blake Lizotte, right, skates in front of Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brett Kulak during Game 4 on Sunday.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Quinton Byfield, one of the few Kings who has played up to expectations, had assists in the first three games. The Kings have outscored Edmonton by five goals when he has been on the ice, the best plus/minus rating on the team.

Lizotte, meanwhile, brings a different kind of energy as the Kings’ spark plug and emotional leader, especially on the penalty kill. Working the PK is often a thankless, inglorious task, but one that was key to the Kings’ success in the regular season. Its struggles have played a prominent role in its three playoff losses.

The Kings had the second-best penalty-killing unit in the NHL during the regular season, but they rank last in the playoffs, giving up eight goals when shorthanded 15 times.

The power play also has struggled, going 0 for 11 in the series.

At even strength, the Kings and Oilers each have 10 goals. But Edmonton has blitzed the Kings’ not-so-special special teams, notching at least one power-play goal in every game.

“They have so many different options,” Lizotte said of the Oilers, who have seen five different players contribute a goal or assist on the power play, led by McDavid, who has a goal and seven assists. “Out of the same looking set, they have three different options, where other teams might have one or two. And obviously they do it at a speed that’s much higher than maybe your average power play.

“So first and foremost, you just can’t take penalties.”

The Kings tried that in Game 4, going to the box only once. But Andreas Englund’s holding penalty in the second period was the opportunity the Oilers needed to spoil the Kings’ most complete performance of the series, with Evan Bouchard scoring the game’s only goal.

“It’s the kind of game you have to replicate every single game,” center Phillip Danault said. “That’s the only way you can win against Edmonton right now. We have to play the same exact way.”

To stand a chance of bringing the series back to L.A. for Game 6, the Kings also need another big effort from goaltender David Rittich, who came off the bench to start Game 4 and quieted an Oilers offense that was averaging more than five goals. But they’ll also need Lizotte and the rest of the penalty-killing unit to stand tall as well against an Edmonton power play that’s averaging nearly four chances a game.

“That’s just too many. You give those players that many chances, they’re going to score,” Lizotte said. “We’ve had opportunities to kill penalties, important moments, and haven’t gotten it done.

“We need to get it done. Timely penalties are what kind of has been our Achilles’ heel.”

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