Kings-Sharks matchup won’t live up to hype

A highly an­tic­i­pated sea­son fi­nale means noth­ing af­ter both teams miss play­offs.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Lisa Dill­man lisa.dill­man@la­times.com Twit­ter: @re­al­lisa

The NHL’s sched­ule mak­ers had a de­li­cious and al­most warped sense of hu­mor when they crafted the open­ing- and closing-day pro­grams. Kings vs. Sharks. San Jose had to watch the Kings raise their Stan­ley Cup cham­pion ban­ner Oct. 8 at Sta­ples Cen­ter, a re­minder of hav­ing lost to the Kings af­ter hold­ing a 3-0 se­ries lead in the first round of the 2014 play­offs.

Book­end­ing that, nearly ev­ery­one thought that Satur­day’s fi­nal regular-sea­son game for the teams could carry weight in the play­off race. In­stead, it turned into a “wait un­til next year.”

San Jose and the Kings are lot­tery bound, not play­off bound, and you would have to go all the way back to 2003 to find the last time the clubs both failed to make the play­offs.

The Kings were of­fi­cially elim­i­nated Thurs­day night at Cal­gary. On a piv­otal three-game trip, they showed only rare flashes of in­spi­ra­tion against Van­cou­ver, Ed­mon­ton and Cal­gary, and scor­ing from their top six for­wards al­most went miss­ing.

“We just didn’t play good enough hockey this year,” Kings cen­ter Anze Ko­pi­tar said. “Too much of the in­con­sis­tency, four- or fiveg­ame los­ing streaks. You can’t do that. It’s too tough com­ing down the stretch this time of year to be play­ing catch-up. There’s not a lot of teams that do it and it didn’t work for us.

“There were a bunch of games that we did give up leads in the third — a cou­ple in Ana­heim and one in par­tic­u­lar against Cal­gary, not to men­tion our shootout record this year. It’s hor­ren­dous. If we would have won half of those things, we’re in a dif­fer­ent spot.”

There are bound to be post­sea­son changes for both Cal­i­for­nia teams, prob­a­bly the ones in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia less jolt­ing. Still the sense of fam­ily and fa­mil­iar­ity is bound to take a hit af­ter the Kings missed the play­offs for the first time since 2009.

For­ward Justin Wil­liams, cen­ter Jar­ret Stoll and de­fense­man Robyn Regehr are all on ex­pir­ing con­tracts. The agent for Wil­liams said re­cently, via email, that there was noth­ing go­ing on in terms of con­tract talks with the Kings. They also are fac­ing the ques­tion of what to do with the con­tract of Mike Richards.

Even teams reach­ing the play­offs end up mak­ing changes, es­pe­cially in the salary-cap era. Satur­day’s fi­nale against the Sharks could be one part fan ap­pre­ci­a­tion, one part cel­e­bra­tion of what the team has ac­com­plished and one part farewell to some beloved fig­ures.

This won’t be the last game be­fore next fall for pos­si­bly sev­eral Kings. The World Cham­pi­onships are next month in Prague. For in­stance, Team Canada would cer­tainly be in­ter­ested in the ser­vices of cen­ter Jeff Carter, young­ster Tyler Tof­foli, de­fense­men Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin, and per­haps left wing Tan­ner Pear­son, if his in­jured leg is fully healed.

But it’s hard to imag­ine an over­worked Doughty want­ing any­thing but a lot of rest this spring. Kings As­sis­tant Gen­eral Manager Rob Blake said Fri­day that they had not heard any­thing from Jim Nill, who is Team Canada’s gen­eral manager for the World Cham­pi­onships. Canada’s first game is May 1.

Blake served in the same po­si­tion last year, and that’s not the eas­i­est job, try­ing to coax play­ers back on the ice af­ter a long sea­son.

KINGS TO­DAY

VS. SAN JOSE When: noon. On the air: TV: Chan­nel 4; Ra­dio: 790. Etc.: It ap­pears for­ward Jor­dan Weal will be mak­ing his NHL de­but, get­ting called up from the Kings’ Amer­i­can Hockey League af­fil­i­ate in Manch­ester, N.H., ac­cord­ing to Blake. Weal, who has 65 points in 70 games, will turn 23 on Wed­nes­day.

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