The Hart-to-Hart conversation ended with Connor McDavid getting the last word and the Kings out of a playoff spot.
The Edmonton Oilers star won’t be appearing in the postseason, but he can certainly affect the race, and he put a dent in the Kings’ aspirations with a two-goal game Saturday in a costly 3-2 Kings loss at Rogers Place.
After they began the day third in the Pacific Division, the Kings got knocked out of a playoff spot altogether after the standings were reshuffled in the Western Conference. Not even Anze Kopitar, in his head-to-head Hart Trophy-candidate matchup with McDavid, could lift the Kings as they wheezed to the end of their trip.
“I don’t think we were as prepared as we should have [been], emotionally in this game,” Jake Muzzin said. “It cost us, I don’t know why.
“We got desperate a little too late.”
Muzzin and Jeff Carter scored for the Kings, who got razor close to sending it to overtime on last-second chances by Kopitar and Dustin Brown. That one standings point would have secured them in third place.
A tight race?
“I don’t think it hasn’t been,” Muzzin said. “It’s always a tight race until the end and we’re in it again.”
It was the second straight game that Kopitar and the Kings faced a Hart candidate, following Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche. Kopitar rendered MacKinnon irrelevant with his four-goal game Thursday.
But McDavid eluded him on a backhand conversion in the first period, and he took over the NHL scoring lead four minutes into the second period with his trademark speed. McDavid drove in from the blue line, past Tyler Toffoli and Derek Forbort and quickly snapped the puck past Jonathan Quick for his 38th goal and 96th point, to give the Oilers a 3-1 lead.
“I think it’s no surprise,” Tanner Pearson said. “How many years he’s been in the league [three] … he’s been doing it since he’s been here. It’s nothing new. Every team comes in here and is aware of it.”
Pearson’s tenacious play got the Kings to 3-2 at second intermission. He stripped the puck from Andrej Sekera to Tobias Rieder for a centering pass that was finished by Carter.
Pearson also made a pretty assist to Muzzin on Muzzin’s snap shot that halved the deficit to 2-1 at first intermission. The Kings gave up their 71st and 72nd first-period goals, tied for fourth-most in the NHL. Kings coach John Stevens argued that the Oilers committed icing on Pontus Aberg’s goal after only 45 seconds, but he cited the overall lack of energy at the start that cost them.
Kopitar was a minus-2. Trevor Lewis returned to the lineup, but he took a slashing penalty in the third period that stunted momentum the Kings tried to build.
“The top guys got taxed an awful lot again tonight,” Stevens said. “We just need more from more, guys from the bottom of our lineup, just a little more push to make a difference. But you don’t want to chase a hockey game regardless of where you’re playing.”
Brown found the puck coming to his stick in the waning moments but never got a shot off. The Kings, the best third-period team in the NHL, took four shots in the final 20 minutes.
“We’ve always kind of [found] a way to almost get there, and tonight, maybe if there’s five more seconds in the clock, that puck could be in the net [and] we could be at least one point here,” Pearson said. “But it’s the way it went tonight.”