The sight was brief but emblematic.
Brendan Leipsic, listed at 5 feet 10 and hardly known as a fighter, ended up tangled with Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tyler Myers, who appears every inch of his listed 6 feet 8. It happened when tempers boiled over in the second period, and the metaphor was clear.
The Kings weren’t going down without a fight Monday night. Matched against a big, fast Winnipeg team that is working toward a Central Division title, they offered up pushback in the opening 40 minutes and gave themselves a fighting chance at the end. But a hairy finish dissolved into an ugly truth:
The Kings were officially eliminated from playoff contention with a 3-2 loss at Staples Center. It was a foregone conclusion, but it hit home in its formality.
“It’s definitely a sour taste,” center Anze Kopitar said. “This whole year has been disappointing. ... Not one guy in this room should be just OK with what’s been going on this year.”
Kopitar pointed out that the Kings still have something to compete for in terms of players trying for jobs and established players showing they “want to keep playing in this league.”
They got some of both with goals by Sean Walker and Dustin Brown, while Leipsic was representative of some late-season toughness. He assisted on Walker’s first-period goal and drew a penalty that resulted in Brown’s second-period tally.
Leipsic took exception to an apparent trip toward the end of the second period that produced another set of scrums as both teams displayed some unusual edge for teams that play only three times a season.
Leipsic is among those trying to establish himself, and the cold reality of the team’s elimination stamped the Kings’ 16th loss in 18games.
“It sucks,” Leipsic said. “You always want to be in the mix. But that’s the reality — we’re not going to be this year. [We] still have a lot to play for … myself included. So take care of business the last 10games and see what happens.”
Brown got the Kings to 2-all with a power-play goal, his 19th goal of the season. He was able to walk in the puck some on the left side against a stickless Brandon Tanev and beat Jets goalie Laurent Brossoit with a shot under the glove.
Walker’s third goal this season was a shot that deflected off Tanev’s skate, off the crossbar and into the goal in the first period. Leipsic made it happen when he spotted Walker on the right side and then curled to the net to screen Brossoit.
Walker is among the young defensemen the Kings need to play down the stretch, a point made further by the benching of Dion Phaneuf for the third time this season. Matt Roy, another defenseman prospect, also got noticed when he induced a tripping penalty, but Roy was also on the ice for Winnipeg’s first goal.
The Kings were ultimately felled by a goal from Myers on a pinpointed shot to the upper right corner of the net on a two-on-one just as a Jets penalty expired with just more than three minutes remaining in the second period. Goalie Jack Campbell stood little chance on it in only his second start since Feb.25.
The Jets also got goals by Kevin Hayes and Kyle Connor after the Kings played them evenly in the opening minutes, only to fail to register a shot in the first 16 minutes of the third period.
Asked about showing fight against Winnipeg, Kopitar said: “That’s a good team, but a pretty good fight gets us to 3-2 in the end. It’s not good enough.”