Things started so bright for the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday. They took a 3-0 lead over the Edmonton Oilers after one period, but quickly threw it away in the second, leading to an eventual 5-4 overtime loss.
The Kings have shown resilience all series, coming back in each of the first three games. But it was the Oilers who showed resilience in Game Four with a comeback of their own.
The Oilers deserve a lot of credit for their comeback, but the Kings deserve their fair share of the blame as well.
They took their foot off the gas in the second and Edmonton punished them for it.
"I think we just didn't execute our game plan enough," said Anze Kopitar on the difference between the first and second period. "Therefore, we were playing too much in our own zone. And they're, obviously, a good team and a skilled team. The more you play in your zone, they're going to make you play."
After such a strong start, falling in overtime after finding their feet again is a tough way to lose for the Kings. 20 minutes of bad hockey and a great shot from Zach Hyman was all it took for the Oilers to tie the series up.
"The series is tied 2-2, so we'll be frustrated tonight but tomorrow's a new day," said Kopitar. "And we've got to get ready for Game Five. That's how it is, first period was obviously really good and the second period was not good. There's no secret to that and we'll have to correct that moving forward."
The return of Kevin Fiala was massive for the Kings, even in a losing effort. He registered two points and had a noticeable impact on the ice.
"Certainly some versatility and more depth throughout the lineup," said Kopitar on what Fiala brings. "(He) made a couple of nice plays, he looked good on the ice so that's a positive for us."
It's more than just Fiala's on-the-ice impact for the Kings though. Getting a player like Fiala back can boost the team in a variety of ways. The Kings looked like a more confident team from the start with the return of Fiala.
"Of course, he's a big part of this team so you love to see him be back in the lineup," said Kopitar on Fiala's return giving the team a confidence boost.
It's a tough ask to come back from an extended period out of action. But it's even more difficult to come back into playoff action. Gabe Vilardi mentioned how fast the game felt when he returned in Game Two, and despite his instant impact, Fiala felt it too.
"It (the intensity) was high, obviously, it's the playoffs," said Fiala.
Fiala's performance was impressive for someone who's missed so much time, but he still feels there's more to give.
"You can always improve, I felt okay," said Fiala on his game. "Hadn't played in three weeks so it's not going to be the best, but it was okay."
One thing that can help when coming off an injury is built-in chemistry with linemates, and Fiala has that with Vilardi and Alex Iafallo.
"Yeah, they're good players, they work hard," said Fiala. "Playoff type of players, they go into dirty areas, they're heavy on sticks and just do all the right things. Just easy to go in with them."
Fiala was in the middle of a controversial moment in his return.
With the Kings holding a one-goal lead late in the second, Fiala was penalized for a trip on Leon Draisaitl. It looked like a poor call when it was called, and the replay confirmed that it was the wrong call.
Adding insult to injury, the Oilers tied the game on the ensuing power play.
"I don't know," said Fiala on the penalty. "What should I say? I don't know, yeah."
Todd McLellan also gave his opinions on the Fiala penalty.
"Look, I could get up here and whine about officiating," said McLellan. "But, in all my years I've learned that calls go your way or they don't go your way. It's really a waste of energy. So, if they called a tripping penalty, it's a tripping penalty. And that's just how it goes."
It was a poor call, but ultimately, McLellan is right. If it was called a penalty, then it is a penalty. And spending too much time dwelling over it post-game doesn't help anyone.
The game had so many momentum swings that every period almost felt like its own game. Despite the poor second, McLellan was positive about the overall game in the end.
"I thought the start was us was, obviously, tremendous, something we haven't had in the series," said McLellan. "The second period, it's been a strange series. It seems like the team that gets the lead takes their foot off the gas a little bit and sits back. I don't know if we were sitting back, but they took advantage of their power plays. And then in the third, we came back in and played the way we wanted to. And then from there, it was fairly even. A hell of a series so far, two really good teams that are playing hard. Good hockey."
We'll find out a lot about this Kings team's character on Tuesday in Game Five. Blowing a three-goal lead can kill a team's confidence and have a big impact moving forward. This team has plenty of leaders and fought through some heavy losses against Edmonton last year.
"I don't think anybody's going to hang their head with our group," said McLellan. "It's almost Deja vu, I don't think anybody thought we would be in this situation again, where we can challenge this team. But we believe we can and we'll recover. We lost 6-0 and 8-2 last year to set us up for Game Five. Obviously, it's a lot closer (now) we've closed the gap a little bit. And while we've improved they've improved also. So, good series."
Blowing leads was a big problem for the Kings early in the year but it seemed like they had fixed that issue in the second half.
When asked if the issues that led to the blown leads early in the season returned Sunday McLellan just gave an emphatic, "no."