RECAP: Kings Fail to Clinch Division
EVERYTHING IS DARKNESS
I remember way back before the 2014-15 season, I said that the Kings were gonna basically run the league. That they would win the division and basically never lose a game. That they'd be the best!
Well, I was wrong, and a season later, we're still waiting on answers.
This has been the regular season that delivers the fun and drama you want from every regular season. There have been highlight reel goals and spectacular season-long performances and dramatic wins and, most importantly, a lot of success. If this team ever deserved accolades for a regular season, they deserved them for this one. They've still tried their hardest to throw their achievements away.
With a game left in the season, the Kings could win the division by beating the lowly Jets.
From the opening faceoff, the Kings controlled the flow of action. Just minutes into the game, Dustin Brown nearly put the Kings on top by banking the puck into the goal off the back of Ondrej Pavelec; only a well-timed swat by Jacob Trouba prevented the game's opening goal.
The Kings, however, would not be denied, and it was the team's most prominent duo that would give them the early lead. After Jeff Carter (controversially, to some) stole the puck, he took it straight toward the net. A subtle deke drew Pavelec to the near post, and then Carter slid a perfect pass across to a wide open Tyler Toffoli. Toffoli made no mistake, and the first step toward winning the division had been made.
A hallmark of the Kings since they became legitimate contenders is their excellent breakout, and they put it to fantastic use to make it a 2-0 game. First it was Muzzin to Kopitar to exit the defensive zone. Then it was Kopitar to Lucic to advance the puck up ice quickly. Then it was Lucic with a beautiful no-look, cross-ice entry pass straight to the tape of Tanner Pearson to start a half-breakaway. Pearson was able to easily slide the puck between Pavelec's legs.
The Kings continued to press. Early in the second, the suddenly hot Andy Andreoff was able to bounce the puck into the net yet again. It was his 8th of the season and his 4th in the past 8 games. At this point, against a team with little to play for at this stage of the season, the division appeared to be locked up.
Not so fast, said the Jets.
The suddenly hot Andreoff quickly cooled off after he let Andrew Copp beat him to a free rebound right at the top of the crease. Copp buried the freebie and trimmed the Kings lead to 2 with just 3 minutes left in the 2nd period. Just over 2 minutes later, Nikolaj Ehlers cut the lead to just a single goal.
It was a frantic finish to the 2nd period in a game that had largely felt controlled by the Kings. Nothing has ever been simple for this team, and if you thought winning the division would be any different then Jonathan Quick probably wants to know who your dealer is.
Though the intermission should've provided ample opportunity for the Kings to settle the game down, it was quickly apparent that they hadn't done that. The Jets came out of the gates flying, and the Kings had little answer.
Less than 3 minutes into the period, the Jets had their equalizer. On a 3-on-2 rush, Blake Wheeler found himself the recipient of a nice cross-ice pass. Though he actually didn't connect on the shot he wanted to get, it may have actually helped the puck find the back of the net. The off-speed shot slipped just inside the far post.
It had all unraveled so quickly. We had a new game and the Kings had just 17 minutes to secure their dirty banner.
Neither team was able to take advantage of those 17 minutes, so they earned an extra 5. Then Jake Muzzin got called for holding and the Kings didn't really have anything, just hopes that they could sneak into a shootout. Only narrowly were the Kings able to do that, as a miraculous Jonathan Quick save prevented the Jets from winning just before overtime expired.
So, it would come down to a shootout. Of course it would. The shootout did in the Kings a season ago, and they'd been able to avoid it almost all season due to the advent of 3v3 overtime. With the shootout came familiar frustration. Three shooters failed to score for the Kings, and the Jets finished their season with a 4-3 win.
It was... not a good performance. For half the game, the Kings looked pretty much unstoppable. After that, they couldn't get started. The Kings lost, and by the end they even deserved that.
The playoffs start next week, and we still don't know where the Kings are going. The Ducks are in flight to D.C. to play the Capitals tomorrow, and they need a win to take the division for themselves. Hopefully Justin Williams has some Kings magic left in him.