The Calgary Flames extinguished the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 on Thursday to advance to the playoffs, eliminating the reigning Stanley Cup Champions in the process.
Lord Stanley's trophy will reside in a new location this offseason as the Kings offense could get nothing going on Flames' goalie Jonas Hiller all night. Jiri Hudler scored two goals on a night the Saddledome had been waiting six years for.
Calgary (45-29-7) has not made the playoffs since 2009, constantly looking up at the Kings in the Pacific Division. This season was different though. From the teams' first game back on Dec. 22nd of 2014, Calgary has given the champs problems, whether it was a three-goal comeback in Los Angeles, or a narrow 2-1 victory a week later, the Flames always came out on top. After tonight's loss, the Kings finish the season with a record of 1-4 against their division rivals.
One reason for the lopsided series is the emergence of Flames star rookie, Johnny Gaudreau, who is known by his nickname, "Johnny Hockey." Gaudreau has been excellent this season, especially against the Kings, scoring seven total points on four goals against them this season.
Gaudreau opened the scoring at the 12:15 mark of the first period. Kings goalie, Jonathan Quick, tried to get his body in front of the puck, but Gaudreau's shot bounced off Quick's shoulder and just across the grease for the 1-0 lead.
"It hit off the glass and bounced right in front of me," said Gaudreau of the goal. "I just tried to get a quick shot on net. [Hudler] saw it go in right away. I saw him cheer so I started cheering too. At first I thought it was a goal, but then they took a while to call it a goal so I kind of got nervous, but ultimately it went in so I was pretty happy about it."
Calgary doubled up the score two minutes later after Hudler was left wide open in the slot. The Kings defense didn't pick up the Flames forward who easily scored his 30th goal of the season. Hudler would score an empty-netter later for his career-high 31st goal.
"This was special," said a happy Hudler. "Obviously, we want to be in the playoffs every time, but after six or seven years we weren't in, it's special."
Down 2-0, the Kings could never quite recover. Playing with a two-goal lead, the Flames were easily able to sit back on their heels and focus on keeping the Kings out of the net. Hiller was superb in goal stopping 34 shots on the night.
The Kings (39-26-15) became just the fifth team in NHL history to miss the playoffs after winning the Stanley Cup the prior season. They are the first team to do it since the Carolina Hurricanes in 2007. That Hurricanes team lost a lot of crucial players the following season, this Kings team did not, keeping their roster relatively intact from last year's championship run.
"It's hard to put stuff into words right now," said a dejected Anze Kopitar. "We're certainly not satisfied and are very disappointed. It is what it is; we just didn't play good enough hockey this year. Too much inconsistency, four and five game losing streaks, and you can't do that."
The Kings were playing catch up since the All-Star break and have been playing on the edge of a playoff berth for months. However, after winning back-to-back games at home to put themselves in a position to make the post season, they went on the road for a critical three-game trip. Canada wasn't kind to the Kings as they lost three consecutive games to Vancouver, Edmonton and now Calgary, sealing their fate of an early exit.
"We still defended it," said Quick of the Stanley Cup. "We defended it for 81 games. We had the expectation of winning the Cup again. That was our expectation this morning and all game long. Until they scored the empty-netter, that was our expectation - we're going to get in and we're going to win again. At the end of the day, we had 82 games to make the playoffs and we weren't able to do it."
Quick made 22 saves and Jordan Nolan scored the team's only goal in the disappointing loss. Injuries and illnesses to young stars, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson played a role in the Kings discouraging season so there's a silver lining in the fact that both players and the entire team as a whole will have more time to rest after three consecutive deep runs in the playoffs. The core of the team will stay intact and maybe a little R and R is just what this team needs to return to the Stanley Cup Finals next year.