The Kings had a good chance to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs Saturday night. And for two periods it appeared that they would.
But in the third period, the Calgary Flames, the third-best team in the National Hockey League at the moment, began picking apart King goaltender Al Jensen and rallied for a 4-3 victory before a crowd of 13,379 at the Forum.
The Kings, in turn, failed to continue the tight checking and error-free defense that had given them a 3-1 lead after two periods.
If the Kings had won Saturday night, they would have locked up a spot in the playoffs because Vancouver was beaten by the Bruins, 2-1, in Boston Saturday afternoon. Still, by losing, the Canucks reduced the Kings' magic number to one.
Even if the Canucks win all of their remaining four games, the Kings need only win or tie one of their four to make the playoffs.
The Kings (30-38-8) are in fourth place in the Smythe Divison, and the Canucks are in fifth.
Thus, Vancouver must win against Hartford today to stay alive. A loss or a tie would clinch it for the Kings.
About Saturday night's third-period collapse, Coach Mike Murphy of the Kings said: "I don't know if it was a breakdown or if some players were not pulling their weight with this club. They stick out like a sore thumb. When you have a couple of floaters in there, we're not strong enough to pull them. That's what happened in the third."
The Flames managed only one goal in the first two periods even though Jensen was straying far from the crease, leaving an open net. Calgary (46-29-2) would likely have scored more had it not been for aggressive play by the King defensemen and backchecking by the forwards.
But Murphy said that "goaltending was not our problem this evening. I thought that Jensen played fine."
In the third period, the Flames scored on two of their first three shots. The first goal came off a faceoff to the right of Jensen. The puck squirted out, bounced off King defenseman Mark Hardy's skate and skidded slowly toward the King net. It went in on the glove side.
The Flames tied it shortly after that. Jim Peplinski took a pass from Paul Reinhart and punched it in from the left side to make it 3-3 at 4:51.
Joe Nieuwendyke's goal at 15:54 gave the Flames the win.
There might have been another Calgary goal, except for an irregularity in the curve of Joe Mullen's stick.
Calgary was awarded a penalty shot after Jensen threw his stick, and Mullen beat the King goalie for an apparent goal at 19:35.
But after Mullen made the shot, the Kings' Bernie Nicholls, utilizing a rarely used rule, asked for a measurement of Mullen's blade.
The measurement showed that the curvature was off by one-eighth of an inch, so the goal was disallowed.
The Kings started out Saturday night by matching the Flames hit for hit and outskating their swifter opponents.
"It's funny," Flame Coach Bob Johnson said. "They (the Kings) did it all--did all the shooting, made all the hits and went with the flow. But in the third, we did it all."
The Kings' first goal came at 9:42 of the first period. Sean McKenna raced up the left side and left a drop pass for Luc Robitaille, who passed to Bob Carpenter, who scored. It was Carpenter's first goal as a King.
Then Jimmy Carson's wrist shot near the end of a power play gave the Kings a 2-0 lead.
Tim Hunter scored on Calgary's sixth shot of the game at 18:18 to make it 2-1 at the end of the first period.
Carson scored again, on a power play at the start of the second period to give the Kings their 3-1 lead. It was Carson's 36th goal of the season.
The Kings returned Friday from a six-game trip, and Murphy thought that they tired.
"We ran out of gas in the third," he said. "When the players get tired, mental fatigue starts to creep in. But there were no excuses tonight. You have a 3-1 lead . . . and to give it up is inexcusable."
King Notes Tickets for the first two games of the Stanley Cup playoffs will go on sale Monday morning at 10 at the Forum box office and all TicketMaster locations. The Kings probably will play their first-round home games on April 11 at 2 p.m. and April 12 at noon. Their most likely opponent is Edmonton. . . . The Kings' two power-play goals set a team record of 91 in a season, breaking the record of 90 set in 1980-81. The total also leads the league in that category. . . . Dave (Tiger) Williams served the second game of his suspension and spent part of the game as a guest commentator for the Kings' radio and television broadcast. He should be available for Monday night's game against the Flames. . . . Luc Robitaille remains in first place in NHL rookie scoring, with Jimmy Carson second and defenseman Steve Duchesne eighth.