The Kings will finish sixth in the Western Conference. Or fifth. Or seventh. Maybe fourth. Possibly even eighth. The NHL regular season is dwindling down to its final hours, and while the Kings know they're in the playoffs, they have no idea of their short-term fate.
Friday night's game against Anaheim presented the Kings with a chance to grab hold of their playoff destiny, to not have it dependent on the results of other games around the country. The Kings had their fingers around that destiny, but couldn't maintain their grip.
Ryan Smyth's first-period goal gave the Kings a lead, but Teemu Selanne tied the game in the second period and scored the go-ahead goal early in the third as the Ducks held on for a 2-1 victory over the Kings before a standing-room-only crowd at Honda Center.
``I hope we're a little bit better in the playoffs than what we were out there tonight,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said. ``You're got a lot of skilled players on that hockey club. You've got to manage the puck the right way. We had plays that we just did not make, that you have to make against their two top lines, when it comes to breakouts, when it comes to managing the puck through the middle of the ice.''
With the win, the Ducks clinched a playoff spot, meaning both Southern California teams will be in the playoffs for the first time since the Ducks joined the NHL in 1993.
Exactly where they will start the playoffs, and against whom, is completely up in the air.
The Kings and Ducks meet in the regular-season finale Saturday night at STAPLES Center. At the moment, the Kings sit in sixth place. If they win the rematch against the Ducks, and Nashville and Phoenix both lose, the Kings would finish fourth. If the Kings win, and one of those two teams loses, the Kings will be in fifth place.
Then again, if the Kings lose to the Ducks, they will be passed by them, and the Kings could also be passed and end up in eighth place, with a series against Vancouver.
``I think we need some help now,'' Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. ``I think this is the first time where it hasn't been in our own hands, and that's not what we wanted to do, but we'll come back tomorrow. We've got to win tomorrow. Everybody wants to go into the playoffs with a win under our belts, playing hard and doing the right things. Hopefully that comes tomorrow. Maybe we get some help and maybe we don't, but our focus now is on tomorrow, and not what's going on around the league.''
The playoff scenarios are a lot to digest, but there is one bit of simplicity involved: if the Kings don't want to slip further in the standings, they will need a better performance than Friday's effort.
The Kings' first period was strong, as Smyth scored an opportunistic rebound goal from the side of the net with 8:38 remaining, but after Selanne tied the game midway through the second period, the breakdowns began in earnest for the Kings.
``That's when it really started,'' Murray said. ``You get caught out there with a couple long shifts, you get a little tired because of the long change, and now you get into some breakdowns. You start to make a few mistakes, and that's when the fatigue will set in, and it happened three or four times in that second period.''
Jonathan Quick was sharp in goal, with 26 saves, but the Ducks -- no doubt desperate to clinch a playoff spot, and not have it come down to the 82nd game -- turned up the heat significantly after Selanne's goal. The Kings had few credible scoring chances over the final 30 minutes and were in hold-on-tight mode on defense for most of that time.
Eventually, the defense cracked, and Selanne, the Ducks' 40-year-old, 30-goal-scoring wonder, scored on a sharp wrist shot after a perfect drop pass from Saku Koivu. That gave the Ducks the lead, 5:54 into the third period, and they shut it down from there.
``I think we could have done a better job, ourselves,'' Kings winger Wayne Simmonds said. ``We kind of let down in the last half of the game. We've got to get our focus for tomorrow night and get two points.
``We kind of let our foot off the pedal, halfway through the game, and they came on strong and obviously that cost us.''
The Kings got a scare in the early part of the third period, shortly after Selanne's go-ahead goal, when captain Dustin Brown was bumped by Anaheim's Toni Lydman and slammed hard into the boards.
Lydman got called for interference and Brown returned to the locker room and missed the ensuing power play, but returned to the game shortly thereafter. After the game, Murray said he did not have any update on Brown's status, and Brown was not available for comment.
After a tight-checking start, the Kings took a 1-0 lead with 8:38 remaining in the first period. Jarret Stoll's centering pass, from behind the Ducks' net, found Brown in the slot. Ellis saved Brown's shot, but the puck got behind him and Smyth, parked to the right of the net, whacked it over the line.
The Ducks tied the game 9:55 into the second period. Quick made the save on a shot by Luca Sbisa, but the rebound popped out to the edge of the right faceoff circle, where Selanne gathered it, shot to the far post and beat Quick to make it a 1-1 game.
Selanne's second goal of the game gave the Ducks a 2-1 lead 5:54 into the third period. On a counter-attack, the Ducks worked the puck deep in the Kings' zone, and Koivu flipped a no-look pass to Selanne, who skated in and beat Quick with a wrist shot from close range.
From there, the Ducks held the Kings to eight shots on goal in the third period and held on.
``At this time of the year, with points meaning so much, and closing out the year, everybody wants to have their game going, going into the playoffs,'' Greene said. ``These guys, they still had to get in the playoffs, and they did that tonight. It was a good game, a good game back and forth all night. A lot of chances, and both goaltenders played well and both teams came ready to play. it was a fun game to be a part of. It's too bad about the outcome.''
1 - 0 LAK
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 ANA