The Kings made the playoffs six times in the last seven years, advancing to the Western Conference quarterfinals five times and winning two Stanley Cups. So this spring’s early exit has taken a little getting used to, as Thursday’s flat, 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames showed.
Here are three examples of where that adjustment has gone poorly.
1. Staying focused when there’s nothing to play for is a challenge
“It’s disappointing when you’re eliminated,” Jarome Iginla said. “At the same time, once you get in the game, you want to win it. When you get out there you forget about all that other stuff, you just want to win the game and enjoy playing it, playing hard, playing the right way.”
But the NHL is so balanced that losing even a little bit of sharpness can be decisive.
“It’s a tough league and it’s very competitive,” Iginla said. “And … those little edges at different times make a big difference. It got away from us there in the second period, and they were sharper than we were.”
The second-period letdown Iginla was talking about resulted in three Calgary goals, turning a tie game into a rout. And since the Flames came in having won 32 consecutive games when leading after two periods, going into the second intermission up 4-1 meant there was probably no good reason to play the third period.
“They got what they needed and got ahead and took control of the game,” Iginla said. “We gave up a few too many of those break[away]s. And in the second period it got away.”
3. Poor Pacific Division results helped sink Kings
The last time the Kings were out of playoff contention with a week left in the regular season was 2009. Darryl Sutter was general manager of the Flames then and just five players from that team remain on the roster.
The last time the Kings missed the postseason at all was 2015, following three consecutive appearances in the Western Conference finals and two Stanley Cups. And their failure to qualify this season is partially the result of a 12-14-2 record in the Pacific Division.
“It’s new for this group,” Sutter said of the early exit. “When this team didn’t make the playoffs after winning a championship, they quite honest, for the lack of a better word, busted their ass to try and make the playoffs. They just didn’t have enough left. You could see it, and that was after three really hard years.
“This is totally different. You’ve got a lot of players, even though they might’ve been here a year or two, they haven’t been prominent parts. They have not gotten the experience in winning. They do not have the experience of playoffs. We don’t match up in our division very well, and we certainly did not tonight, and it’s clear.”