From San Jose
The Kings were hoping to finish with a flourish and with home-ice advantage in the playoffs. After absorbing a 6-1 spanking from the San Jose Sharks on Monday at HP Pavilion, the Kings are just hoping to finish upright and among the top eight in the West.
Six players each scored a goal for the Sharks, who clinched their fourth consecutive Pacific Division title and moved up to the No. 2 seeding while dropping the Kings from fourth to fifth. The Sharks scored four times in the second period — the first time merely 22 seconds after the Kings had pulled to within 2-1 — to chase starting goaltender Jonathan Quick and shred the Kings' prized defensive structure.
"Every one of their goals we gave it right to them. They took advantage of every opportunity they got and filled the net on us," defenseman Matt Greene said.
"It's a good lesson late in the year that you're never really as good as you think you are, especially if you're going to give a good team the opportunity to beat you like we did tonight."
Was it a lesson? An embarrassment? A disappointment?
"Maybe all three," Dustin Brown said.
The Kings' clinching number remains at two: any combination of two points they earn or two points the Dallas Stars don't earn will put the Kings into the playoffs for the second straight season. The Stars face Columbus at home Tuesday; the Kings play host to Phoenix on Wednesday.
Maybe by then the sting of this defeat will fade. The Sharks' speed consistently made the Kings look flat-footed. The Sharks went inside, outside and anywhere they pleased any time they pleased.
"It was just getting everything handed to you there," Greene said. "They came ready to play, obviously. We didn't."
With a playoff spot at stake there's no explanation for this kind of performance. Yes, the Sharks are good. Maybe good enough to avoid their usual early-round playoff exit. But the Kings were so flustered so often and so easily led astray from the disciplined defensive game that is their trademark that it raised questions about how far they'll go in the playoffs when — if? — they get there.
"You've got to show up against a real good hockey club and play well. And we didn't do that," Coach Terry Murray said.
It was bad from the start. Alec Martinez's errant clearing try allowed Torrey Mitchell to keep the puck in the zone for a shot that Joe Pavelski rebounded at 1 minute 47 seconds, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic pinched into the zone to take a pass from Kyle Wellwood and score with a delayed penalty pending against the Kings at 8:26.
"Structurally we were really broken down," Murray said.
Michal Handzus cut that to 2-1 at 1:57 of the second period when he flipped home the rebound of a shot by Greene, but the Sharks made it 3-1 on a deflection by Wellwood on the next shift and never stopped.
"They came right back after we make it a 2-1 game and that's the way they approach business and they come back and score and after that it was all their game," he said.
"They played a good game and we weren't up to par or anywhere close to what we need to be to get in the postseason," Brown said.
That assessment might have been the only thing they got right Monday.