By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Apr. 8) — How remarkable that the Los Angeles Kings — one of the truly clutch and prolific road teams of this era in the National Hockey League — may have blown their chance for a Stanley Cup dynasty by losing a critical, late–season game in Edmonton. Against the downtrodden, 29th–place Oilers — just 14–22–3 in their home arena on Wayne Gretzky Dr. when the defending champs arrived Tuesday night.
Doubled 4–2 at Rexall Place, the Kings now have minimal control over their playoff destiny. Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Co. can be eliminated from the 2015 Stanley Cup tournament on Thursday night with a loss in Calgary and a victory by the Winnipeg Jets at Colorado. Both games start at 9 p.m. Eastern. Trailing Winnipeg by three points for the second wildcard berth in the Western Conference, L.A. has a better chance of sneaking into the playoffs as the third–place club in the Pacific Division, where it sits two points back of Calgary. The Kings can no longer catch Minnesota in the No. 1 wildcard slot.
If Los Angeles prevails at the Saddledome, all eyes turn to the Staples Center at 3 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, where the Kings host San Jose in a nationally–televised game on NBC. Calgary visits Winnipeg at the same time. With three fewer ROW’s (regulation/overtime wins) than Calgary, the Kings must finish ahead of the Flames to make the post–season. So, Los Angeles gets in with a victory over San Jose and a loss by Calgary at Winnipeg. The Kings also advance with an overtime or shootout loss to the Sharks and a Flames regulation–time defeat in Winnipeg.
LOSING THIS GAME AT EDMONTON TUESDAY TO THE 29th–PLACE OILERS MAY HAVE COST THE ROAD–SAVVY KINGS A SHOT AT WINNING THEIR THIRD STANLEY CUP IN FOUR SEASONS. ANDY DEVLIN GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM
This is a huge comedown for a team that crafted Stanley Cup titles in 2012 and 2014 by virtue of its mastery away from home. In 2012, L.A. wiggled into the playoffs on the final weekend and then accomplished something that may never be repeated. The Kings won the first two games on the road in all four Stanley Cup rounds — at Vancouver, St. Louis, Phoenix and New Jersey. Overtime victories in Games 5 at Vancouver and Phoenix finished off the Canucks and Coyotes.
Last spring was nearly as spectacular.
Los Angeles became only the fourth team in Stanley Cup history to win a best–of–seven series after losing the first three games — knocking off San Jose on the road in the deciding match. Another Game 7 road victory — against Anaheim — put the Kings into the Conference final. Then came a seven–game struggle with Chicago that ranks among the most enthralling playoff rounds of the past generation. L.A. nearly coughed up a 3–1 series lead but prevailed at the United Center in the deciding match when a wrist–shot from the point by defenseman Alec Martinez deflected past Hawks goalie Corey Crawford at 5:47 of overtime. Martinez then won the Stanley Cup with an overtime tally against the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the final at Staples Center.
So we ask again: How can a battle–hardened team that won 10 of 11 road games in the 2012 playoffs — and then three consecutive playoff rounds in Game 7 on the road last spring — put itself in jeopardy by losing at Edmonton in the final week of this season? You figure it out.
It’s a question the Kings and their fans could be pondering all summer.
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