With the St. Louis Blues defeating the Chicago Blackhawks tonight, the Kings’ hopes of getting the fourth seed in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs evaporated. The Kings hosted the San Jose Sharks in their regular-season finale tonight, and it was simple — the winner would get the fifth seed and play the Blues, the loser would finish sixth and play the Vancouver Canucks. With Matt Greene reportedly battling an injury unrelated to his back, he sat tonight and Keaton Ellerby drew back into the lineup, alongside Greene’s spot (and Ellerby’s former spot) on Jake Muzzin’s right on the Kings’ third defense pairing. I have no problems if Greene is unable to play in the playoffs and Ellerby has to play in his place, but, as most players do in the playoffs unless they’re suffering from something severe, I’m guessing Greene will play through it. At forward, the Kings’ lines in Detroit against the Red Wings on Thursday saw Anze Kopitar between Mike Richards and Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter between Brad Richardson and Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll between Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis, and Colin Fraser between Dwight King and Jordan Nolan. Tonight, it saw Kopitar between Clifford and Carter, Stoll between Dustin Penner and Williams, Richards between King and Lewis, and Richardson between Toffoli and Nolan. Penner checked back into the lineup, so we’d see how he’d respond to being a healthy scratch this time — he actually has responded well in the past (spoiler: he responded well again, for the most part). Fraser continued to underwhelm in his return to the lineup, so he was back in the press box. With the Kings coming off an awful two-game road trip and Dustin Brown serving the second and final game of his suspension, Sutter switched up the lineup as he continues to look for the right mix. I didn’t mind the new lines, other than I would have switched Stoll and Richards. With Greene out, Stoll took his place as assistant captain.
Both teams got off to a slow start in this game, but as the first period went along, they got better. However, the period still ended up being pretty uneventful, with just a handful of quality scoring chances. The shots were even at eight in the middle frame.
After a dull first, things began to open up in the second period. Not even a minute into the period, from the right side of the Sharks neutral zone, Williams passed the puck up the middle to Kopitar who entered the Sharks zone, dished it to Clifford on his left, and Clifford moved into the high left shot at the edge of the circle and took a shot that Antti Niemi stopped with his blocker, but it bounced up and over Niemi and into the net. However, not even a minute later, Logan Couture entered the left side of the Kings zone, moved around Slava Voynov and Rob Scuderi into the low left slot, and beat Jonathan Quick by his blocker. But, not even four minutes later, from the bottom of the left circle by the boards in the Sharks zone, Richardson worked the puck to Scuderi at the left point who worked the puck over to Voynov at the right point, and he took a slap shot that hit the stick of James Sheppard just inside the circle by the right slot, bounced down, then came back up and beat Niemi by his glove. In a much more lively middle frame, the Kings were strong and ended up holding a 14-7 edge in shots.
Just about six minutes into the third period, we finally got our first power play, and it went to the Kings, as Andrew Desjardins headed to the penalty box for tripping and the Kings got a chance for an insurance goal, but they failed. However, with eight minutes left in the period, from the bottom of the left circle by the boards in the Sharks zone, Penner passed the puck to Williams in the low left slot, Williams immediately passed it below the goal line to Richardson, who immediately backhanded the puck right back to Williams in the low slot, and Williams beat Niemi to his left to finish off a beautiful passing play. But then with just over two minutes to go, Brent Burns tapped the puck from the high slot up to Joe Pavelski at the right circle, and Pavelski fed it across to T.J. Galiardi at the left circle, and he immediately beat Quick before he could get over. With just over a minute to go, the Sharks called their timeout and pulled Niemi for the extra attacker, but they failed to get the equalizer. The Sharks had a stronger final frame, holding a 10-5 edge in shots, but it wasn’t enough.
Well, there you go. The Kings finish off the regular season with a win, they get the fifth seed in the Western Conference, and as they begin their quest to defend the Stanley Cup, they will take on the Western Conference’s fourth seed, the St. Louis Blues, in the Western Conference quarter finals, the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I’m sure we’re all very excited, but I’m going to get into it more in the preview that I write for the series. That, as well as my post containing my previews and predictions for all of the other Western Conference series and my post containing my post for my previews and predictions for all of the Eastern Conference series will be up sometime before the playoffs, whenever they start. For now, let’s just get to my three stars for tonight’s game.
Third Star: Jonathan Quick.
The Sharks didn’t put on a ton of pressure until it was pretty late, but Quick came up big then and didn’t let the Sharks get the tying goal. He stopped 23 of the 25 shots sent his way, and there wasn’t much he could do on either of the goals he let in. After struggling through a rough season, Quick continues to round into shape just in time for the playoffs
Second Star: Kyle Clifford.
Clifford started the regular season strong, and he’s finishing it strong as well, evidence by the fact that Sutter had him on the first line today. He opened the scoring tonight and was all over the ice all game long. The Kings will hope he can carry this play into the post-season. An injury knocked Clifford out of the playoffs early last year and when he got healthy, the team was on such a roll that he struggled to get back in the lineup. You know he’ll be motivated this year.
First Star: Brad Richardson.
I love this guy! Why was he ever out of the lineup? For Fraser? Really? Fortunately, Sutter finally came to his senses late this season and inserted Richardson into the lineup, and he’s been great ever since. It’s nice to know he’ll be in the lineup for the playoffs. Tonight, he was all over the ice as usual, helped set up Voynov’s goal, and then did the same as part of a beautiful passing play on Williams’ ultimate game-winning goal.
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