The no-look pass by Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin went right to the stick of a leading goal-scorer in the third period of a tight game Thursday night.
Unfortunately, for Muzzin, the owner of the stick was not teammate and winger Marian Gaborik. The gift went to Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad, who promptly collected it and buried it for his 17th goal of the season.
Buried, you say?
Would that be the Kings' hopes of making the playoffs?
Not yet. Not after 51 games of an 82-game regular season.
But they let a third-period lead evaporate with a litany of mistakes as the Panthers rallied for a 3-2 victory at BB&T Center. The Kings have won once on the road in their last 10 road games, have won one of their last eight and remain five points out of a playoff spot.
Even after the Muzzin miscue, the Kings still had a shot at leaving Sunrise with one point but another turnover, this one by forward Tyler Toffoli, led to the game-winner by the Panthers' Brandon Pirri with 3:05 remaining. Pirri, who has scored in six of Florida's last seven games, beat goalie Jonathan Quick short side.
"That's a little bit of experience there. A young defenseman turns it over," Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. "A young forward turns it over."
Muzzin, of course, was part of the Kings' top shutdown pair, along with Drew Doughty, on their way to winning the Stanley Cup in June. His turnover on the Bjugstad goal was perplexing.
"I got pretty fortunate," Bjugstad said. "It was just in the middle of the ice for me, kind of on a platter…. That was toward the end of my shift. I didn't really expect it. I saw it there and started licking my lips. I had some time and had some net too."
The Kings have rarely looked so rattled in the Sutter Era.
Not only are they failing to protect third-period leads, the Kings are imploding with a series of mistakes at crucial junctures. They took a third-period lead with Gaborik's 17th goal of the season, coming on the power play at 2:19, but promptly lost the chance to make up ground in the playoff race.
"To be honest, the way we lost, it is what it is," Kings center Jarret Stoll said. "We lost two points. We had two. Then we had one. And then we got none. That's the bottom line."
You have to wonder whether the spectacular meltdown could have a lasting impact.
"We got zero points tonight," Stoll said. "Yeah, it's a tough loss. But we got zero points."
Said Sutter: "I thought we scored a big power-play goal to make it, 2-1. Obviously, the turnover to tie it and a turnover to win it for them. Turnovers: That's the difference between winning and losing."
The Panthers were without defenseman Willie Mitchell, the former King. Mitchell apparently suffered an undisclosed injury Tuesday against the New York Islanders.
Sutter made a slight tweak on defense, putting Jamie McBain in for youngster Brayden McNabb, who has been struggling. McBain scored his third goal of the season — recording his 100th career point in the NHL — ripping a shot past Florida goalie Roberto Luongo, tying the game at 1-1, at 15:48 of the first period.
"It took me maybe the first period to get my legs under me again," said McBain, who had not played since Jan. 8. "I got beat early for a two-on-one, so that was kind of 'welcome back' and something I definitely can't make a habit of. I mean, that's what gets you taken out of the lineup in the first place."