Following an impressive run through last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs, it seems nearly unthinkable that the Los Angeles Kings wouldn’t be participating in the tournament this time.
That scenario, however, is inching closer to reality.
Coming off a two-game skid that has them outside of the playoff picture, the Kings can ill afford to drop Thursday night’s contest with the visiting Edmonton Oilers with only six games remaining on their schedule
Los Angeles (37-25-14) trails Winnipeg by two points for the Western Conference’s final wild-card spot and is three behind Calgary for the Pacific Division’s final guaranteed spot after 4-1 losses to Minnesota on Saturday and Chicago on Monday. The Kings had opened their five-game road swing with three consecutive wins, briefly moving ahead of the Flames.
Despite their poor play, the Kings still control their playoff destiny. Los Angeles has a game in hand on the Jets and – by virtue of a greater number of regulation or overtime wins – the tiebreaker. It also would have a chance to pass Calgary if it wins out, due to having a game in hand on the Flames and a head-to-head road matchup April 9.
"It’s not where we want to be, but can’t sit here and feel bad for ourselves," Dustin Brown said. "We still have a chance, so that’s what I think guys in this room have been really good at, is realizing that the opportunity is there."
Although undesirable, it’s not an unfamiliar position for the Kings, who have had to wait until their final six games to clinch a playoff spot in each of the past three seasons, two of which ended in Stanley Cup championships.
Los Angeles has 51 points at home this season, tied for sixth most in the NHL, but Staples Center hasn’t been a friendly spot lately. The Kings are 2-3-1 in their last six on home ice, scoring one goal or none in five of those.
"We’ve still got to take care of business at home," coach Darryl Sutter said. "Take care of business at home first. We start (Thursday)."
Edmonton (23-41-13) doesn’t share Los Angeles’ desperation, but the Oilers have played spoiler to a degree in recent weeks. Prior to Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to Anaheim, Edmonton handed Colorado and Dallas defeats in consecutive games and put one of the final nails in Philadelphia’s playoff coffin on March 21.
"The team is driving itself right now," coach Todd Nelson told the Oilers’ official website prior to Wednesday’s game. "I don’t have to stop practice and lean on them about executing better. Now it’s become a habit. The guys are playing well and playing hard for each other. That’s the most important thing."
Ben Scrivens struggled against the Ducks, but may be back in net after Richard Bachman left the team following a death in the family.
He’ll likely oppose Jonathan Quick, who was pulled Saturday after allowing two goals on nine shots, then was peppered with 40 shots in Los Angeles’ loss on Monday. He’s been far more effective in 19 career meetings with the Oilers, touting a 1.54 goals-against average – his best against any West opponent.
Los Angeles’ Andrej Sekera will not play Thursday after sustaining a lower-body injury against the Blackhawks, but Jarret Stoll (head) could return from a nine-game absence.
Edmonton split two home meetings with the Kings this season, yet has lost its last five trips to Los Angeles while getting outscored 17-3. The teams meet once more at Rexall Place on Tuesday.