On Sunday the Kings were knocked out of the playoff race. On Monday, the players learned they might not be going to the Olympics either.
So on Tuesday they found themselves trying to pick up the pieces of both their earliest postseason elimination since 2009 and what could be the first Winter Olympics without NHL players in two decades.
“I’m disappointed,” captain Anze Kopitar said before the Kings’ 6-4 victory over the Edmonton Oilers.
“Unfortunate,” added defenseman Drew Doughty.
They were speaking of the NHL’s decision not to pause next season’s schedule to allow players to participate in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But the sentiments could just as easily have been applied to the way this NHL season is ending, with the Kings playing for nothing but pride in their final four games.
“You play hard. You try to win games, bottom line,” Kopitar said. “We’re not going to go out there and just tank it. There’s some stuff that each and every individual has to work on. And I guess there’s no better time to do it.”
The team got an early start on next year against the Oilers and the offensive effort they turned in was better than many of the 78 that preceded it, with Trevor Lewis and Tanner Pearson scoring third-period goals to break a 3-3 tie and hand the playoff-bound Oilers their 11th loss in as many games at the Staples Center, dating to November 2011.
Nick Shore added a goal and three assists, rookie Jonny Brodzinski had two second-period assists for his first NHL points, and the Kings had their first six-goal game since Feb. 9.
And Doughty, like Kopitar, said the game proved the Kings are going to do more than just play out the schedule, which closes with games against three more playoff teams in Calgary, Chicago and the Ducks.
“Even though we know we’re out, we’ve got a lot to prove,” Doughty added. “No one’s going to take a night off. We take a lot of pride playing for the Los Angeles Kings.
“We have a lot of character, a lot of experience. So we’re never going to lay down.”
They didn’t exactly stand up to Edmonton in the first period, with Milan Lucic bouncing a power-play goal off goalie Jonathan Quick 21/2 minutes after the opening faceoff. League scoring leader Connor McDavid set up the goal, dashing past defenseman Derek Forbort on the right wing to pick up his 66th assist.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doubled the lead less than nine minutes later, chopping in a feed from Jordan Eberle from the edge of the crease at the left post.
The Kings erased the deficit with second-period goals by Shore, Dustin Brown and Nic Dowd. The lead lasted only 76 seconds, though, before Nugent-Hopkins split Doughty and Forbort on a breakaway to tie it — a tie Lewis broke less than two minutes into the final period.
Pearson then scored what appeared to be an insurance goal off a turnover in the Oiler zone with 10 minutes to play, only to see Edmonton pull with a goal again on Darnell Nurse’s slap shot from the blue line with 6:12 remaining.
The Kings closed the scoring on an empty-net goal by Doughty.
But while the Kings’ playoff fate is sealed, there’s still hope the idea of NHL players participating in the Olympics can be revived. The NHL Players’ Assn. was unsparingly critical of the league’s decision not to accommodate next February’s Games and the league’s board of governors said it was open to hearing arguments from the union, the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation.
“I don’t see that as the final resolution,” coach Darryl Sutter said of the league’s decision.
Doughty, who already has two gold medals, said younger players like McDavid deserve their shot at Olympic glory too.
“It’s special to every country,” he said of the Olympic tournament. “It’s unfortunate for those young guys especially because they deserve to play in the Olympics and deserve a shot at the gold medal.”
Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles TimesIce Hockey Los Angeles Kings NHL Edmonton Oilers Anze Kopitar Trevor Lewis Milan Lucic