I talked to a few people last night about the Los Angeles Kings. Not massive hockey fans, mind you, just regular people in LA with varying degrees of investment in and knowledge about the team. The sentiment was universal, though: "I didn't believe the Kings could miss the playoffs until Tuesday."
Well, after a 3-1 loss to the ($#@%$$#^%ing) Calgary Flames. It's a brave new world.
Some key moments in last night's game:
The High Stick
Starting with this one because it's the quintessential "What if?" moment from last night. Matt Greene took a high stick from Flames center Mikael Backlund midway through the first, and the results were not pretty (bloody photo). The referees didn't see it, and Greene went straight to the locker room. In the six minutes he was off the ice, the Flames scored twice. Some things are out of a hockey team's control.
The Two-Punch Combo
Then again, some things are very much IN a hockey team's control. The ensuing goals weren't unlucky, but the result of poor coverage. Hearing about the first goal, I was surprised to see very muted criticism of Quick on Twitter; hearing the description "the puck crawled up Quick's arm and just over the line" makes it sound like a softie. On replay? The defense was scrambling, the Flames were buzzing, and Johnny Gaudreau got a quick shot off with Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, and Robyn Regehr all moving around between him and Quick. The positioning by Quick was quite good, but he couldn't react quickly enough to prevent the shot from finding the
back front of the net.
Drew Doughty was out with Regehr for that one; a couple minutes later, he and Jake Muzzin were on the ice for the follow-up. This time, no fault really lies with the defensemen; Jarret Stoll followed Mason Raymond to the boards, leaving the middle of the ice open as the red-hot Jiri Hudler streaked down the middle. Quick, again, did what he could, but the blast was off the post and in.
LA got one goal! Alec Martinez, from behind the goal line, threw the puck off the pads of Jonas Hiller, and Jordan Nolan was there to emphatically convert the rebound. The secondary assist went to Mike Richards; it's his first point since January 14. Given the cost of a potential buyout, it probably won't be his last in a Kings uniform.
The Inexorable March of Time
I'm reminded of what they used to say about Manchester United: they'd always score as the game wound down and the team was trailing, it was just a matter of when. Last year's magical run had that feeling. This year? No dice, unless you're talking about the OTHER team always finding a way to knot things up. In this game, the Kings poured it on in the final two periods, but the scoring chances didn't keep up with the Corsi.
The endgame was familiar to anyone who's watched LA try to score in the final minutes; perimeter shots didn't trouble Jonas Hiller even if they did get past the shot blockers, Darryl Sutter waited to pull his goalie until there was just about a minute left in the game, and in the end, it was the Flames who got the goal that clinched their playoff spot. With Winnipeg's OT loss to Colorado, LA needed both points anyway; at least they spared us the agony of another shootout loss!
It's the fourth loss in five games to Calgary this season, a record which will be one of the enduring mysteries of this season. There are plenty of other ones, too. We've already started breaking down the puzzle of how a top-ranked possession team with above-average goaltending, above-average special teams, and a completely normal PDO manages to miss the playoffs. We'll continue to do that in the coming weeks.
For now? We've got one more game on Saturday, and one more chance to stick it to San Jose. Staples Center will be full on Saturday, because no matter what 29 other sets of fans are gleefully trying to convince each other, we're in this for the long haul. If you're there, show your appreciation for a team that's delivered more joy to this fanbase in the last three years than they experienced in the 45 years before.
... oh, and if you're one of those people who lived in Los Angeles and only found out how incredible this sport and this team are in the last few years? Stick around, and screw everyone who tries to tell you that you're not as good of a fan as they are.