Oilers Make Kings Slip, Fall
By the narrowest of margins, the Kings’ playoff hopes may have ended Thursday night in front of a disbelieving crowd.
A shot off a rebound by Craig Johnson with 1:09 to play was ruled not to have crossed the goal line before the net was dislodged, enabling the Edmonton Oilers to emerge with a 2-1 victory in front of 18,118 at Staples Center.
Anson Carter’s goal with 5:59 remaining was the difference as the Oilers, winners of two in a row after a nine-game winless streak, moved eight points ahead of the Kings in the race for the eighth playoff position in the Western Conference.
If the Oilers win again tonight against the Ducks at the Arrowhead Pond, the Kings will be 10 points back with only 15 games to play when they return to Staples Center for Saturday night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens.
“It doesn’t make our chances any better,” defenseman Aaron Miller said, “but what can you do? You’ve got to believe it can still be done.”
In all probability, though, the Kings’ chances died on the goal line along with Johnson’s shot, which stalled as Johnson was shoved over goaltender Tommy Salo and into the net by defenseman Steve Staios, the momentum dislodging the net.
“I couldn’t see it,” Johnson said. “I thought it might have gone in, just by the way it was pushed and the way the momentum of the puck was going.”
Replays showed that the net was off its moorings before Salo reached out his glove and seemed to carry the puck over the line.
King Coach Andy Murray, who argued the call at the time, said he had no quarrel with the ruling after watching replays in the dressing room.
He did, however, have a problem with the Kings’ sluggish start.
With next Tuesday’s trade deadline looming and last Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Mighty Ducks dropping the Kings six points behind the Oilers in the playoff race, Murray didn’t think he’d have to remind the Kings of the game’s significance.
“Hockey players aren’t brain surgeons,” he said before the game, “but we’re smart enough to know what’s an important game.”
Club President Tim Leiweke, who had declared Monday that “nobody’s going anywhere” as long as the Kings remained in the race, declined to speculate on what might happen if they fell out.
“We’re going to have to take a look at how we do tonight and go from there,” he said before the game. “Whatever happens tonight, we’ll decide where we are tomorrow. I don’t want to get into predicting.
“We’re just focused on trying to stay afloat here.”
The Oilers, meanwhile, were trying to shake a slump. Before Thursday, they were 3-7-3-2 since Jan. 29. The Kings were 9-6 over the same stretch.
But the Oilers dominated the opening period, outshooting the Kings, 19-5, and taking the lead on a goal by winger Ales Hemsky in the 16th minute.
Ryan Smyth, who returned to the lineup Tuesday after sitting out nine games because of a shoulder injury, made the play possible, diving to the ice to chip a loose puck out of the neutral zone and over Miller’s head.
Hemsky caught up to it in the King zone and skated in alone on goalie Jamie Storr, lifting a backhanded shot into the net for only his fourth goal.
At period’s end, the Kings left the ice amid a shower of boos.
The fans reacted more positively at 3:42 of the second period, when defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky blasted a 55-foot shot past Salo.