The “cleanup guy” scored the overtime winner for the Los Angeles Kings, who surged to a 4-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers for an early lead in their playoff series Monday.
Anze Kopitar’s power-play goal with 16.7 seconds remaining in regulation sent Game 1 into extra time. Alex Iafallo’s power-play goal at 9:19 ended it in OT.
“Alex is kind of our unsung hero,” Kings head coach Todd McLellan said. “He cleans up.
“(Assistant coach) Trent Yawney always says he cleans up a lot of messes. Errors, mistakes, for teammates, he seems to be the cleanup guy.
“But on the other side of it, he has the ability to score. He can go up and down the lineup, penalty kills, blocks shots.
“A utility guy that is often forgotten when you roll into Edmonton or Calgary or wherever you might be going, but certainly isn’t forgotten in our locker room.”
Adrian Kempe scored a pair of goals for the Kings, who trailed 2-0 after two periods.
Kopitar had a four-point night with a goal and three assists, while Kings goaltender Joonas Korpisalo earned the win with 38 saves.
Leon Draisaitl countered for the Oilers with a pair of goals and defenceman Evan Bouchard also scored.
Edmonton starter Stuart Skinner stopped 31 shots in the loss in his playoff debut in his hometown.
The Oilers aim to even the series in Wednesday’s Game 2 at Rogers Place.
They also dropped the opener of their first-round series against the Kings last year, en route to taking it four games to three.
Games 3 and 4 are Friday and Sunday at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.
The Kings held NHL scoring leader Connor McDavid off the scoresheet, although the Oilers captain drew a pair of penalties in the first period that led to Bouchard’s 5-on-3 power-play goal.
Iaffalo scored after Edmonton defenceman Vincent Desharnais was called for tripping in overtime, although Blake Lizotte seemed to slip on a broken stick on the ice after colliding with Desharnais along the boards.
“My initial thought on the play was that the player stepped on the broken stick, but those are the things you know, that happen in the playoffs sometimes,” Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said.
The Oilers nearly ended it at 1:54 of OT, but officials ruled Ryan McLeod’s shot from the blue line deflected off Derek Ryan’s high stick.
With Bouchard serving a high-sticking penalty, and Korpisalo pulled for an extra attacker, Kopitar produced the late equalizer.
The puck lay in the crease for Kopitar to poke in after Philip Danault’s shot squeezed between Skinner’s pads.
Kopitar produced his first four-point playoff game of his 17-year career.
“He’s obviously one of the best leaders out there,” Kempe said. “He takes charge when he’s out there.”
Extracurricular mauling and shoving started around the players’ benches on line changes when the Oilers took a 2-0 lead in the first period.
Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse gave Kings counterpart Drew Doughty a hard shot to the chest late in the period.
The Oilers led by two goals after 40 minutes and 3-1 on Draisaitl’s second goal at 8:46 of the second period. But Kempe drew the Kings within a goal twice.
“When you go into a third period up two goals, you’ve got to find a way to close it out in the playoffs,” Bouchard said.
Edmonton owned the league’s best power play this season with a record 32.4 per cent success rate. The Oilers went 1-for-3 with a man advantage Monday.
The Kings’ power play ranked fourth. They went 2-for-6 with those two goals the difference in the game.
“We got production from different areas, different situations,” McLellan said. “The lesson we learned last year that we weren’t prepared for is the level of play is going up immensely in Game 2.”