To say that things have been rough is an understatement.
As per usual, the Kings have had a late-season lapse following clinching (or virtually locking up) a playoff spot. This is nothing new, of course. In 2013-14, they lost 5 of their final 7. In 2013, it was 2 of their final 3. In 2011-12, it was 5 of their final 8. In 2010-11, it was 5 of their final 7 again. Finally, in 2009-10, it was 3 of their last 5.
So, this isn't new. This Kings group has often slumbered through the end of its schedule. Frustrating, yes, but nothing we haven't seen before.
I suppose it is more frustrating this season, because the Kings had some control over their potential playoff opponent as they barreled toward the end of the season. Still, the difference between the Sharks and the Predators is not very significant, and most likely a series victory would result in a second round matchup with the Ducks in round 2. However, the Kings have been just bad enough to put their hold on home-ice advantage up for grabs. By the midpoint of tonight's game, the Kings sat just a single point up on the Sharks for 2nd in the Pacific.
So, there was some importance.
After falling behind early, Miian Lucic knotted the game at 1, and he did it much in the way that he has done things all season long. As Anze Kopitar drove to the net, Lucic followed him in the perfect position to take advantage of any situation that arose. The situation that did arise: Kopi's attempt was foiled, but the pokechecked puck fell perfectly to Lucic, who rifled a quick shot past Flames netminder Joni Ortio. It was his 18th goal of the season.
Lucic wasn't done though, and he pounced again due to strong positioning and hockey sense more than flashy skills or special talent. After Ortio stopped a Drew Doughty shot through traffic, he kicked out a rebound right to Lucic's stick, and he popped him the go-ahead goal rather easily for his 19th of the season.
Looch doesn't have a lot of flair in his game. In that sense, he's much like the man he (ostensibly) replaced: Justin Williams. Both players were effective because their games are honed to a point of pure efficiency. They move the puck forward, they get the puck to good spots, they get the puck from the opponent, and they go to the net. While I think Williams had more skill in his game, Lucic has proven to be a very adequate substitute in Stick's stead.
Unfortunately, Lucic's efforts alone would not be enough, and some tough defending from Jake Muzzin and Luke Schenn led to the Flames getting the equalizer before the 2nd period expired.
Then, early in the 3rd, some iffy goaltending from Jhonas Enroth - who may have been screened by Doughty on the play - helped the Flames to their first lead since the early portion of the game.
Fortunately, the suddenly resurgent Andy Andreoff had a sudden answer to again put the game on equal footing. The game-tying goal was Andreoff's 7th of the season.
For a time, the game appeared to be steady enough to at least get to overtime, and the Kings would be able to earn a much-needed point. Then, suddenly, another breakdown. This time it was Anze Kopitar and Dwight King who got crossed up. After skating the puck up high, Flames forward Michael Ferland handed the puck off to lumbering defenseman Deryk Engelland. As Kopitar tracked Ferland out high, Dwight King tried to cover Engelland. Unfortunately, King didn't see Kopitar and the two collided. Freed up, Engelland skated toward the goal line. From the bottom of the circle - at a tough angle - Engelland roofed a shot past Enroth that the Kings netminder would likely want back. 4-3 Flames.
...Then Kris Versteeg! Or Jamie McBain? Or Lucic again?
Who knows. It was a strong team goal. The Kings never stopped fighting after falling down a goal. After more than 45 seconds of persistent pressure - shots, shot attempts, blocked shots, crisp passes, puck control, won battles - the Kings broke through with another equalizer. After having his initial shot blocked, Jamie McBain fired a second shot that found its way through to Joni Ortio. Subsequent to it rattling around in the goaltender's equipment, the puck trickled toward the goal line. Versteeg and Lucic had their sticks in the area, but it appeared that the puck may have been finally propelled over the goal line by Ortio himself. No matter who got it, the Kings had their crucial goal. With it, they earned an extremely important point.
Still, another point was on the line, and Jeff Carter didn't want it to stay there.
Just 40 seconds into overtime, Carter won the game on a tremendous individual effort. After poking a puck off a Flames stick, Carter raced back the other way with a little more than a half-breakaway. Just able to deke across the top of the crease, Carter slid the puck through the exposed five-hole of Joni Ortio and the Kings, somehow, some way, managed to earn two points out of this one.
They aren't all Rembrandts, and I'm pretty sure I can fingerpaint something better than this one, but two points are two points. I'll take any positives I can get at this point. This win puts the Kings just a single point from locking up, at the very least, second in the Pacific.
Temporarily, the Kings have more points than the Ducks. However, as of this writing, the Ducks are leading the Jets heading into the 3rd period of their game. This all sets the table for Thursday's critical matchup with Anaheim that has the potential to decide the fate of the Pacific division.