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Few Pieces Shy of Playoff Load

The Kings’ first-round sweep at the hands of the St. Louis Blues qualifies as progress.

Barely.

The Kings lost the last three games of this series by a total of three goals, including Wednesday night’s 2-1 close-out in Game 4.

“If you make the playoffs and get beat, but you play well getting beat and you see that you’re going in the right direction, maybe you add a piece here and a piece there to make you a competitive team,” King General Manager Dave Taylor said after the scoreless first period. “Then, yeah, I think you can look at the season as a success.”

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The Kings, after recovering from that 8-3 loss in Game 1, showed that they at least belong in the playoffs.

“I think we can compete with any team in the league,” Taylor said.

Starting today, that isn’t enough.

The Kings did a lot of talking about competing and gaining confidence this week. The notion of actually winning didn’t come up as often.

That’s not much of an option when you can’t beat a team in eight tries, even with a three-goal lead in the third period in your own building.

But teams don’t just go from coming up empty in the playoffs to winning the Stanley Cup. And the Kings have yet to show they can win a postseason game. They might think they know. They still have to show it.

“The effort and the want to win and the will to win was there,” defenseman Rob Blake said. “Whether we went about it the right way, I don’t know.”

What they absolutely had to do was end on a better note than that disastrous Game 3.

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It would be impossible to expect the Kings to just get over Geoff Courtnall’s hit on goalie Jamie Storr, which provoked Sean O’Donnell to retaliate and draw the five-minute penalty that allowed St. Louis to score four power-play goals in just over three minutes.

“I think there’s still a lot of anger,” Taylor said.

That was just about the only emotion remaining at the start of the game. St. Louis’ 3-1 series lead--only two teams have overcome such a deficit in Stanley Cup playoff history--pretty much took the suspense out of it.

The crowd didn’t reach the same frenzy it did Monday night. The fans seemed more intent on seeing Courtnall get punished.

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So did the Kings. As if O’Donnell hadn’t exacted enough revenge the other night, he picked up a penalty for slashing Courtnall.

Rob Blake made a hard check on Courtnall against the boards. Feeling that wasn’t enough, he made another run at Courtnall and this time drew a penalty.

Too bad the Kings didn’t spend as much energy firing the puck at the net. St. Louis outshot the Kings, 29-14, through the first two periods and held a 1-0 lead. In one way or another, this series has been about Courtnall. He had a hand in six of the eight St. Louis goals in Game 1, he changed the course of Game 3 with his hit on Storr and he assisted on the first goal of the game Wednesday, passing to Pavel Demitra for an open shot as he was being knocked down.

But what about Grant Fuhr? Back in the glory days of the Edmonton Oilers, would anyone have guessed Fuhr would be making an impact in the 1998 playoffs while Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier were at home?

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Craig Conroy got the second goal with 16:38 to play, and asking the Kings to come back from two goals down in the third period apparently was too much.

Just when Jozef Stumpel had almost faded out of the picture, he made two swipes at a missed shot by Aki Berg and pushed the puck past Fuhr.

Now the Kings had 12 minutes to get one goal, force overtime, keep their season alive.

The crowd became reenergized. The Kings skated with renewed vigor.

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But no matter what they did in this series, it didn’t seem to be enough.

A Glen Murray shot trickled under Fuhr’s pads and into the net with 9:50 remaining. However, the referee had lost sight of the puck and blown the play dead. No goal.

The Kings seemed to get another great chance when an obstruction penalty was called on St. Louis defenseman Marc Bergevin with 4:21 remaining.

It lasted all of 18 seconds. Vladimir Tsyplakov picked up a slashing penalty with 4:03 left and the power play was gone. That was it.

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Time for Taylor to start working on finding those pieces, starting with someone who can consistently score in the playoffs.

With the Staples Center only a season away, the stakes are higher. There are more seats and luxury suites to sell.

There’s no time stop and reflect on a season that ended in April.


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