Oilers’ Evander Kane shows his playoff prowess: ‘Brings the best out of me’

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LOS ANGELES — For the better part of the last two seasons, Evander Kane has struggled through injuries ranging from devastating to nagging. He has produced inconsistently, and he has seen his ice time fluctuate because of it — much to his chagrin.

But this is the time of year when none of those things matter. This is the time of year when players have a chance to change narratives.

“It’s a new year,” Kane said. “It’s a new playoff season.”

Game 3 was just that for Kane, who put a promotion to good use with a Gordie Howe hat trick in a massive 6-1 win for the Edmonton Oilers. He was the biggest catalyst of many for the Oilers, who now have a 2-1 series lead over the Los Angeles Kings.

“He was everything that is asked of him,” captain Connor McDavid said.

This was Playoff Evander Kane — the type of performance he produced so often two springs ago when he scored 13 times in 15 games and was a physical nuisance to opponents.

“Evander’s game is suited for this type of style,” winger Zach Hyman said. “He plays physical. He goes to the hard areas. He scores.

“You can’t ask for more out of a guy like that. He’s a huge part of our team. That’s what playoff players are: they perform in the playoffs, and he’s been doing it for years — not just tonight.”

It took increased opportunity — something Kane has made no secret he’s wanted — for what was arguably his best game of the season to come to fruition.

Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch hinted Thursday that Kane was due for more minutes based on his early-series efforts. It didn’t look like there was much chance of that happening, though, based on the status quo lines at the morning skate.

It turned out to be misdirection from Knoblauch, who told Kane then that he’d be getting a top-six assignment on right wing next to Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Kane made good use of the spot vacated by Warren Foegele for large stretches of the game.

He put his stamp on the game early. Late in the first period, he received a chip pass from Draisaitl at the offensive blue line and bolted down the left wing. As he went around the net, Kane reversed the puck. It hit the side of the cage and went right to Draisaitl, who deposited the pass before Kings goalie Cam Talbot could properly react.

The goal put the Oilers up 2-0.

Kane’s one slip-up on Friday came when he lost Kings blueliner Drew Doughty in the defensive zone, which led to an easy goal against at 5:32 of the second period. But he quickly made amends for that misstep by tipping in a Cody Ceci point shot for his first goal of the playoffs barely two minutes later.

That deflection restored a three-goal lead for the Oilers. They never looked back.

“He just feeds off the intensity,” Draisaitl said. “He enjoys that part. He enjoys the physicality. He enjoys the simplicity of playoff goals. He’s obviously really, really good at it.

“I thought the first three games here, he’s been fantastic.”

“He was awesome,” defenceman Darnell Nurse said. “He drove the play with his legs, scored a goal getting to the net front and the dirty area and had a fight. He was great for us.

“Obviously, this time of year you always see him shine.”

Oh, yeah, there was that scrap as well.

Kane completed his Gordie Howe hat trick by fighting Andreas Englund in the third after Englund caught him with a huge open-ice hit.

“If I was playing against him, I wouldn’t be comfortable out on the ice with Evander just because of how physical he is,” Knoblauch said. “He’s been helping our team a lot.”

There was a ton to like about the Oilers’ play in Game 3. They showed once again they’re unquestionably the better team. The Kings, quite frankly, are lucky to be in this series.

With Kane playing his best game in ages, the Oilers proved why they’re an elite offensive team.

Hyman continued his run of scoring in every game this series. He netted two more goals, increasing his tally to an NHL-best six this postseason.

Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid each had three points. In scoring twice, Draisaitl became the fastest player to 20 career road playoff goals in NHL history; he got there in just 26 games.

Their otherworldly power play torched the Kings again, going 3-for-7. The Oilers have scored seven times with a man advantage on 14 tries through three contests.

But they also starred defensively.

Knoblauch facetiously said after the morning skate that giving up one chance was too many after the Oilers surrendered nine goals over the first two games. The players couldn’t live up to those lofty standards — real or not — but they were close.

You might not need two hands to count the number of high-danger opportunities the Kings had.

“Every coach tries to teach it from the time you’re six years old that good defence leads to offence, but, I mean, it’s so true,” Nurse said.

The Oilers’ work while short-handed deserves a ton of credit for the team’s defensive prowess, too. They thwarted all five Kings power plays on Friday and are a perfect 10-for-10 through in the series.

“Everyone’s going to talk about the power play, but the penalty kill has been the story of this series for me,” Hyman said. “It’s been absolutely phenomenal in just keeping everything at bay, keeping momentum on our side.”

The Oilers now have a chance to gain a stranglehold on the series — one they should have already — with a win in Game 4 on Sunday.

Things have been on equal footing through four games in each time these teams have faced off in the first round over the previous two years. The Oilers can change that.

“We want to get greedy on Sunday and get another one,” Kane said.

Another performance like this from Kane would go a long way toward accomplishing that.

He looks like the Kane who burst onto the scene when he signed with the Oilers in January 2022, scoring 22 goals in 43 games. He was a monster in those playoffs, helping Edmonton reach the Western Conference finals.

But things have largely not gone according to plan from the moment he sustained a horrific wrist injury in November 2022 that sidelined him for more than two months. Upon return, he lost the net-front spot on the first power-play unit he was sharing with Hyman. He played through broken ribs late last season, and a reported broken finger in the playoffs hindered him to the point that he produced just three goals and five points in 12 games.

This season he’s been dealing with a sports hernia for weeks, an ailment that forced him to sit out the final three regular season games.

Perhaps there was a reason Kane scored just three times over his last 26 games heading into the playoffs as part of a 24-goal, 44-point campaign in 77 contests.

“A lot of things he’s playing with, a lot of discomfort,” Knoblauch said. “Any time a player is playing through a little discomfort, it’s a big thing. You can put it aside, but it’s on your mind and it’s holding you back a little bit.

“I’ve heard a lot of the coaches and players talk about how well Evander has stepped up and played so well in the playoffs. Now I’m experiencing it. I’m seeing him raising his game to another level.”

That’s just it. The playoffs are a different beast — a time when any past underwhelming moments and recent tense moments on the bench with teammates can be quickly forgotten.

It’s apparently the time of year for which Kane lives.

“Just the drama of it all,” he said, “it just brings the best out of me.”

(Photo: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

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