Kings against Sharks in finale won't be the game that was anticipated

Kings-Sharks game in NHL regular-season finale turns out to be a meaningless matchup

The NHL's schedule makers had a delicious and almost warped sense of humor when they crafted the opening- and closing-day programs.

Kings vs. Sharks.

San Jose had to watch the Kings raise their Stanley Cup champion banner on Oct. 8 at Staples Center, a reminder of having lost to the Kings after holding a 3-0 series lead in the first round of the 2014 playoffs.

Bookending that, nearly everyone thought that Saturday's final regular-season game for the teams could carry weight in the playoff race. Instead, it turned into a "wait until next year."

San Jose and the Kings are lottery bound, not playoff bound, and you would have to go all the way back to 2003 to find the last time the clubs both failed to make the playoffs.

The Kings were officially eliminated Thursday night at Calgary. On a pivotal three-game trip, they showed only rare flashes of inspiration against Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, and scoring from their top six forwards almost went missing.

"We just didn't play good enough hockey this year," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "Too much of the inconsistency, four- or five-game losing streaks. You can't do that. It's too tough coming down the stretch this time of year to be playing catch-up. There's not a lot of teams that do it and it didn't work for us.

"There were a bunch of games that we did give up leads in the third — a couple in Anaheim and one in particular against Calgary, not to mention our shootout record this year. It's horrendous. If we would have won half of those things, we're in a different spot."

There are bound to be postseason changes for both California teams, probably the ones in Southern California less jolting. Still the sense of family and familiarity is bound to take a hit after the Kings missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Forward Justin Williams, center Jarret Stoll and defenseman Robyn Regehr are all on expiring contracts. The agent for Williams said recently, via email, that there was nothing going on in terms of contract talks with the Kings. They also are facing the question of what to do with the contract of Mike Richards.

Even teams reaching the playoffs end up making changes, especially in the salary-cap era. Saturday's finale against the Sharks could be one part fan appreciation, one part celebration of what the team has accomplished and one part farewell to some beloved figures.

This won't be the last game before next fall for possibly several Kings. The World Championships are next month in Prague. For instance, Team Canada would certainly be interested in the services of center Jeff Carter, youngster Tyler Toffoli, defensemen Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin, and perhaps left wing Tanner Pearson, if his injured leg is fully healed.

But it's hard to imagine an overworked Doughty wanting anything but a lot of rest this spring. Kings Assistant General Manager Rob Blake said Friday that they had not heard anything from Jim Nill, who is Team Canada's general manager for the World Championships. Canada's first game is May 1.

Blake served in the same position last year, and that's not the easiest job, trying to coax players back on the ice after a long season.

KINGS SATURDAY

VS. SAN JOSE

When: noon.

On the air: TV: Channel 4; Radio: 790.

Etc.: It appears forward Jordan Weal will be making his NHL debut, getting called up from the Kings' American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester, N.H., according to Blake. Weal, who has 65 points in 70 games, will turn 23 on Wednesday.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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