ST. LOUIS – The Kings actually took a significant step toward the playoffs on Thursday night, even though it wasn’t their feet doing the stepping.
The Kings put themselves in an early hole again, and lost 3-1 to the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center in a game that left them more disappointed than angry.
St. Louis’ first goal came after a Kings defender fell down, and the Blues’ third goal came within inches of being cleared off the goal line by a Kings defenseman.
Add in several that-close chances in the third period, and the margin between victory and defeat was thin, but the Kings hurt themselves by going only 1-for-7 on the power play and missed a golden opportunity to all but solidify a playoff spot.
``I saw it as a lot of missed power-play opportunities,’’ Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``But we had our opportunities later on. The power play didn't come through, but even with that, the time in the offensive zone was there, but the net presence and more of a shot attitude, to get more desperation in front of their net, seemed to be lacking here tonight.''
As it was, the night was not a total loss for the Kings. They fell into sixth place in the Western Conference, one point behind Nashville but with two games in hand.
More importantly, for the Kings and everyone in the top eight, ninth-place Calgary lost in regulation to the New York Islanders, reducing the Kings’ ``magic number’’ to 10.
Essentially, even if the Flames finish their season with an 8-0 record, the Kings would still secure a playoff spot if they got 10 points out of their final nine games.
``I think it's important for us, as a team, not to worry about it,’’ said captain Dustin Brown, who scored the Kings’ only goal. ``You look at the standings every day, but ultimately it comes down to how you play the game. It should be irrelevant whether Detroit or Calgary or any other team wins. We have to take care of our own business.
``We have games in hand, and we're sitting above, all the teams that are right behind us. We just need to be focused on our game. We showed spurts of being a great team tonight. We need to show that consistency.’’
The Kings, who aren’t far removed from the days when they were fourth in West, want to go into the playoffs with some momentum and avoid the feeling that they’re ``backing in.’’ That will require better 60-minute efforts than the two the Kings put forth in back-to-back games against Colorado and St. Louis this week.
The Blues, still eight points behind eighth-place (and red-hot) Detroit, faces a near-impossible task to make the playoffs, but they got goals from B.J. Crombeen, T.J. Oshie and Paul Kariya, one in each period.
Brown’s third-period power-play goal pulled the Kings within 2-1 in the first five minutes of the third period, but the Blues clinched the game with six minutes remaining.
The Kings were back on the ice less than 24 hours after they rallied from a two-goal, first-period deficit to earn one point in a 4-3 shootout loss to Colorado.
Jonathan Quick, pulled from that game in the first period after the Avalanche scored three goals, was back in goal and stopped 22 shots. St. Louis’ Chris Mason saved 30.
St. Louis took the lead 3:57 into the first period. The Kings’ attempt to hold the puck in the offensive zone failed, and the Blues jumped on it in the neutral zone and started a 2-on-1 break. Crombeen beat Quick with a wrist shot from the left circle.
``That's unfortunate there,’’ Murray said. ``The puck comes back and is bouncing. Our tracker, our high forward in the offensive zone, his read is to support. He fell down, and it was a 2-on-1.’’
The first period was also one of missed opportunities for the Kings, who held the Blues to four shots on goal but couldn’t score, despite a 41-second 5-on-3 advantage and three St. Louis minor penalties in the period.
The Blues pushed their lead to 2-0 at the 1:06 mark of the second period. St. Louis forced the puck away in the neutral zone, and Keith Tkachuk came up the right side on the counter-attack. His shot hit traffic, but Oshie was there, in front of the net, to knock the rebound past Quick.
The Kings showed some life early in the third period, as they pulled within 2-1 with a power-play goal at the 4:38 mark. After a St. Louis defensive-zone turnover by Barret Jackman, Brown scored on a close-range wrist shot.
The Kings outshot the Blues 16-11 in the third period and, after Brown’s goal, had a handful of excellent scoring chances around the net, but Mason held up strong and the Blues got the game-clinching goal with exactly six minutes remaining.
After a video review, the Blues regained a two-goal lead. Kariya picked up a rebound in front of the Kings' net, and Randy Jones attempted to keep the puck out of the net, but a video review showed that Jones kicked the puck out after it had crossed the line.
``I thought we were decent in the first period,’’ Brown said. ``One breakdown, a 2-on-1. We came out of the period down 1-0, and it wasn't a great period but we didn't give them very much. They had one opportunity and they capitalized.
``They just seemed to have timely goals. They got a goal pretty early in the second. After that goal, it was pretty tight checking, and then in the third period we were all over them. Six minutes left, I like our chances, even being down 2-1, but that one goal was kind of a back-breaker.’’
1 - 0 STL
2 - 0 STL
2 - 1 STL
3 - 1 STL
Delaying Game-Puck over glass
Delaying Game-Puck over glass