Why Kings loss on Monday was so costly for NHL playoff race

by Admin
Why Kings loss on Monday was so costly for NHL playoff race

The Kings held their playoff fate in their hands, until it slipped through their fingers. They were in control of their own destiny, now they need help.

After Monday’s 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild, the team’s second setback in four games, the Kings’ lead over Vegas in the battle for third place in the Pacific Division is down to a point with one game to play.

The Knights, however, had two games left — Tuesday with the Chicago Blackhawks and Thursday against the Ducks, two of the three worst teams in the 32-team NHL. And both are at home, where the reigning Stanley Cup champions have the fifth-most wins in the league.

Win out and Vegas finishes third, saddling the Kings with the Western Conference’s second wild-card berth and the eighth seed in the eight-team playoff bracket. Even a win and an overtime loss in their final two games would be enough for the Knights to finish third no matter what the Kings do in their final game Thursday with Chicago.

Here’s why that matters: Finish third in the division, and you open the playoffs next week against either Edmonton or Vancouver, who were 1-2 entering Tuesday’s games. The Kings are a combined 4-2-2 against those teams this season.

But the eighth seed will likely start the postseason in Dallas, where the Kings haven’t won since 2019. So for coach Jim Hiller, Monday’s missed opportunity was massive.

“We’re in a playoff race. You have to want to win every game, and then you’ll let the chips fall where they may,” he said. “Tonight was not a game indicative of the playoff race.”

And for a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2014, that letdown couldn’t have come at a worse time.

“You can describe it a bunch of different ways. Not enough intensity, not enough emotion,” he said. “A bunch of words and they all mean the same thing.

“We didn’t want to go to work and battle. It’s a challenge to have to do that and we weren’t committed to do it.”

All of which complicates the path forward since it’s out of the Kings’ hands.

“We can control how we play and what we do. You can’t control the teams above or behind us,” forward Pierre-Luc Dubois said.

Refocusing in Thursday’s regular-season finale with Chicago will help after two lackluster performances at home against Anaheim and Minnesota.

“If you can go to the playoffs feeling good, it kind of helps your team’s mind-set,” defenseman Matt Roy said. “You just kind of feel more ready. You don’t want to go in losing focus or confidence. You want to be ready to go and you want your teammates to be ready to go as well.”

And if the Kings have to take that focus to Dallas for the first round, well they probably would have had to play there eventually anyway, defenseman Mikey Anderson said.

“I don’t think it matters who we play. Obviously anyone that’s making postseason is is a really good team,” he said. “Whoever it is we need to be ready to play. You’re going to have to play them at some point if you want to win it all.”

Maybe a change of scenery would do the Kings good. Finishing third likely would mean a trip back to Edmonton to play the Oilers, a team they haven’t beaten in the postseason since 1989, Wayne Gretzky’s first season in Los Angeles.

The only time the Kings played the Stars in the playoffs was 1968, the inaugural season for both teams, when the Stars played in Minnesota.

The Kings still can avoid that. All that would require is a win over Chicago on Thursday and Vegas losing two in a row at home for the first time in two months, against two of the worst teams in the league.

OK, so maybe that won’t happen.

But when the playoffs open, the Kings again will be in control of their own outcome. And they can’t afford to let that slip away again.

“I’m not concerned,” Hiller said. “It’s not like we didn’t talk about it. It’s not like [the players] didn’t talk about it amongst themselves. We all know what the situation is.”

Destiny awaits.

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