This was not the ripple effect the Kings sought.
It was one fell swoop, er, one illegal hit against the one team they couldn’t put on the power play that doomed them Thursday. Dustin Brown’s hit on Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz resulted in a five-minute boarding major that the Penguins used to put the game away 3-1 and send the Kings to a season-high fifth straight loss in front of 18,230 fans at Staples Center.
The reverberations were felt in the standings, too, because the Kings fell to ninth in the Western Conference, or out of the playoff picture for the first time this season. That’s based on a game in hand by the Colorado Avalanche, but it’s a minor detail in a bigger picture that is slipping from the Kings’ hands.
“It’s been tough,” Brown said. “It’s frustrating to lose five straight, especially in the situation we were in … it’s one of those things where you have to realize where you are. It’s been hard. It’s been brutal here for us, frustrating. But … we’re still fighting for a spot.”
Down 2-1 early in the third period, Brown sent Schultz into the boards while Schultz was knelt down with his back to Brown. Brown was ejected from the game and given a five-minute boarding major in which Patric Hornqvist scored his second goal of the game. The Kings made it more difficult with two more minor penalties, but the game was essentially swung on Brown’s penalty.
“I’m going to close on him,” Brown said. “He stumbles, toe picks. I don’t drive through the wall or anything but I also close in on the play. At most it’s probably a two [minute penalty]. I hope he’s OK.”
The play allowed Pittsburgh’s top-ranked power play ample opportunity against the Kings’ No. 1 penalty killing unit, and Hornqvist scored on a shot just inside the post past Jonathan Quick, who had a rather forgettable outing. Meanwhile the Kings got one goal — albeit a highlight score by Adrian Kempe — past Pittsburgh’s Casey DeSmith in DeSmith’s first NHL start.
“We’re obviously pretty down on ourselves right now,” Drew Doughty said. “We want to turn it around as soon as we possibly can and that will start [Friday]. At times I thought we deserved better tonight and could have won that game.”
Just when the Kings seemed poised to take the lead — they are the best third-period team in the NHL — the Penguins struck 26 seconds into the third on Evgeni Malkin’s faceoff win against Nick Shore and subsequent chip shot off a rebound to put the Kings in a 2-1 hole.
Quick had little chance on the shot but he seemed to shake off another fluky start. For his second straight game, he allowed a blooper-type goal from the right side. This time it was Hornqvist with a shot from the right-side boards that appeared to glance off Derek Forbort’s stick before it snuck through Quick’s legs 43 seconds into the game. Quick allowed a similar goal to the Ducks’ Ondrej Kase on Saturday. The Kings get the Ducks again Friday in a tough turnaround. They don’t have time to pout.
“If you’re not frustrated, there’s something wrong with you,” Brown said. “But we’re just trying to channel that frustration into positive energy that you can use to win games, because there’s going to be ups and downs, and you’ve got to find a way to dig yourself out.”
Defenseman Jake Muzzin returned to the lineup after a three-game absence because of an upper-body injury and picked up an assist on Kempe’s 14th goal.
Follow Curtis Zupke on Twitter @curtiszupke