The Kings' last failed title defense ended achingly close to their final goal, falling short in Chicago in a double-overtime rush of blood and sweat.
This quest did not end in the playoffs but in a regular-season defeat in Western Canada, with the coup de grace coming against the Calgary Flames. The Kings became the first reigning Stanley Cup champion to fail to reach the playoffs in the following season since the Carolina Hurricanes in 2007.
They were officially eliminated Thursday night as the Flames led by two goals after the first period and held on for a 3-1 victory at the Scotiabank Saddledome, making the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
In fact, 2009 was the last time the Kings failed to reach the playoffs. They lost in the first round the next two years and then won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, losing to the Blackhawks in the Western Conference final in 2013.
“It obviously stinks right now,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said. “It's definitely tough to swallow. When we came together in September, this is not the way we envisioned it
“It's hard. It's hard to put stuff in words right now.”
The prevailing sentiment in the dressing room and in the hallways at the Saddledome was disappointment. Kings forward Justin Williams used several other words to capture the team-wide feeling.
“Depressing. Embarrassing. Unfulfilled. Upset,” said Williams, who was the Stanley Cup playoff most valuable player in 2014. “A lot of emotions.”
Deja vu for Williams was just as bitter this time around. He was a member of the Hurricanes' Stanley Cup-winning team in 2006 and was around when Carolina failed to make the playoffs in 2007.
“It felt extremely similar,” Williams said. “You have a team that won the Stanley Cup but you didn't do enough to qualify for the playoffs. I said at the start of the season, the hardest part is getting in.”
The Kings were on the edge already, but they faltered on this critical three-game trip to Canada, taking one of a possible six points, losing in a shootout at Vancouver on Monday and to lowly Edmonton on Tuesday.
They scored four goals in three games but only two from forwards: Dwight King at Vancouver and fourth-liner Jordan Nolan against Calgary, cutting the Flames' lead to 2-1 early in the third period.
Calgary took a 2-0 lead before the game was 15 minutes old on goals by star rookie forward Johnny Gaudreau and veteran Jiri Hud-
ler. Gaudreau's goal was reviewed by the situation room, which determined his original shot crossed the goal line after it hit the shoulder of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and went in behind Quick.
There were no questions about Hudler's rocket from the high slot a little more than two minutes later to make it 2-0. It was a three-point night for Hudler, who assisted on the Gaudreau goal and added an empty-netter with 50 seconds left, for his 31st goal of the season.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty logged his usual impressive amount of ice time, playing nearly 30 minutes. He tried, at times, to take the game over and Calgary Coach Bob Hartley joked he didn't know if Doughty came off the ice in the third period.
Doughty used the word “embarrassed” to describe the new sense of reality. The Kings have one more regular-season game remaining and they will be arriving at the golf courses uncommonly early.
“As a defending Cup champions, I don't think there's any way you shouldn't make the playoffs the next year,” Doughty said. “We have so many good players and definitely have a great team and weren't able to show it consistently.
“I don't know what to say, it's just disappointing that we're done.”