VANCOUVER -- For a while, a long while, there was hope, hope that the Kings would come in with their injury-riddled lineup and surprise the NHL's top team.
The Kings gave themselves that hope with a first-period goal, but then allowed two goals in the second period -- including a back-breaking goal in the final second -- and lost 3-1 to the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night before 18,860 at Rogers Arena.
The third period was, by far, the most frustrating for the Kings. Trailing only 2-1, with a decent chance to at least send the game to overtime, the Kings were outshot 16-0.
``I thought we were too tentative from the start,'' Kings captain Dustin Brown said. ``We had a one-goal lead, and we just didn't go after it. We kind of sat back, and when you have a team like that [Vancouver], they're going to shove it down your throat if you're going to sit back and not attack. We didn't get enough attacks from the start of the game, I thought, not just the third period.''
It was only the fifth time in franchise history -- and the first since 2003 -- that the Kings failed to record a shot on goal in a period. The frustration showed when Kyle Clifford got a five-minute penalty (and a game misconduct) for checking from behind, which was closely followed by a Matt Greene cross-checking penalty and a Vancouver 5-on-3 goal.
It remains to be seen whether Clifford will face supplemental discipline for his hit on Vancouver's Christopher Tanev, after which Tanev skated tentatively to the bench.
``in the environment that we have today, it's a play where you've got to let up,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``There's no question the Vancouver defenseman saw him from the top of the hash mark in, above the dot in the circle. But you do have to let up. That's just the way the environment is. There was an evasive move. It looked like he was going to try to go behind the net, then he cut in. He saw him, but at the same time you do have to be aware of it as the player that is coming in second.''
To be certain, losing a game to Vancouver is nothing to be ashamed about. With Thursday's win, the Canucks claimed the President's Trophy, awarded to the team with the most regular-season points, and the Canucks have been particularly strong of late.
Clifford gave the Kings a 1-0 lead in the first period, and the Kings did a solid job of holding the lead for most of the third period, but Daniel Sedin tied the game with 4:54 remaining in the second period, at the end of a 2-on-1 break.
Then, just a few seconds away from the second intermission, and a chance to catch their breaths in a tie game, the Kings fell behind. At the end of a nice Vancouver counter-attack, Christian Ehrhoff scored from the slot to give the Canucks a 2-1 lead. That's how it stayed until Ryan Kesler scored with 4:26 remaining in the third period.
``Obviously the two teams, we have a pretty big rivalry from the beginning,'' Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. ``We don't get along too well on the ice, and they're always hard-fought games. It seems like those scrums after the whistle and stuff happen every time, but that's a part of hockey and the playoff atmosphere. Approaching playoffs, that's just how all of our games, here on out, are going to be. It's harder, but at the same time it's a lot more fun.''
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was mostly sharp, amid some heavy pressure at times, and allowed the two goals on 35 shots faced. Vancouver's Roberto Luongo made 18 saves.
Against a Canucks team that leads the NHL is every high-profile team statistic, the Kings had a chance to pick up even one valuable point in the tight playoff race.
``They have a good team,'' Brown said. ``I think they clinched today, first place in the league, but we've got to find a way to be better. I mean, we were in a 2-1 game. That second goal was a tough one, but we're 2-1 with less than five minutes left and we still have a chance there. It's tough when you put yourself in that situation at the end of the game. It kind of takes the wind out of the sails. We've just got to move on. It's kind of the playoffs now, very similar to that, so you've got to forget it and move on.''
The Kings remain in fifth place in the Western Conference, but could have passed fourth-place Phoenix with a win or an overtime/shootout loss. The Kings remain ahead of sixth-place Nashville -- which also has 94 points -- because of the games-played tiebreaker -- and with Dallas' regulation loss, they remain seven points ahead of the ninth-place Stars.
From this point forward, any combination of three Kings wins and/or three Dallas losses would clinch a playoff spot for the Kings. The teams meet Saturday at STAPLES Center.
After a Canucks-heavy start to Thursday's game, the Kings managed to score the first goal. Doughty pinched down deep in the Vancouver zone, and his attempt to get the puck to the front of the net got deflected, but it got deflected right onto the stick of Clifford, who shot and beat Luongo from near the middle of the left circle to give the Kings a 1-0 lead with 6:51 remaining in the first period.
The Canucks tied the game with 4:44 remaining in the second period. Doughty, who had consistently been jumping into plays deep in the offensive zone, got caught deep, and the Canucks worked the puck behind Trevor Lewis and started a 2-on-1. Sedin kept the puck and beat Quick with a sharp wrist shot to tie the game 1-1.
Vancouver took a 2-1 lead with 0.9 seconds remaining in the second period. The Kings took the puck deep into the offensive zone, after a rush by Doughty, but then got caught on a Canucks counter-attack. Jannik Hansen took the puck into the zone and passed to Ehrhoff, who beat Quick from the slot.
``You can't ask a defenseman not to make that kind of play,'' Murray said of Doughty's play. ``I mean, my God, you've got to give him an opportunity to try to be the player that he is. The issue, for me in the second period, would have been the first goal. We got a little too cute up top, with the rotation of three guys trying to make a little saucer pass. Whenever you have one of the premier players in the game on the ice -- and they have three up high also -- that was a little too much to ask at that time.''
After Clifford got a five-minute penalty for checking from behind (and a game misconduct), and Greene took a cross-checking penalty, the Canucks had a two-minute 5-on-3 advantage. They scored on it, with 4:26 remaining in the third period. After a flurry of activity, and with Quick basically sitting on the ice trying to defend, Ryan Kesler lifted a shot into the net to give the Canucks a 3-1 lead.
While acknowledging that Clifford's hit probably should have been avoided, Murray also took issue with a non-call earlier in the period, when Kings center Michal Handzus slammed into the end boards after a hit by Vancouver's Aaron Rome.
``That is interference,'' Murray said. ``The puck is in the corner. He is going to retrieve the puck. Tambellini cuts him underneath and Rome comes and blindsides him. That is interference.''