ANAHEIM - If the final month of the season is any indication, a rare playoff miss would appear to be a blip on the radar rather than a trend for the Anaheim Ducks.
A 5-2 defeat of the rival Kings in Anaheim's regular season finale at Honda Center was the culmination of a respectable push to close a mostly disappointing 2018-19 campaign in which the Ducks will miss the postseason for the first time in seven years and just the third time since 2005.
After enduring a five-game losing streak in the early days of Executive Vice President and General Manager Bob Murray's stint as interim coach, the Ducks went a respectable 11-5-1 over the final month. And an Anaheim team that will likely finish last in the NHL in goals actually was seventh-best in the league since March 1 with 57.
The future also looks bright based on the performance of Anaheim's young players, as tonight two rookies - Max Jones and Sam Steel - played major roles in a Ducks victory for the second straight game. Jones had two eye-catching assists on the Ducks' first two goals of the game after tallying one of his own two nights ago. Steel, who also scored in that game, potted the fourth Anaheim goal tonight, which all but slammed the door on the contest.
"You never want to miss the playoffs, but when you do, at least you have the opportunity to bring some of the kids up and give them experience," Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "Let them earn their stripes here. That way, in training camp, they know what to expect when they push for spots."
LA got the game's first goal after John Gibson made a couple of nice stops on a scramble around the Anaheim net, but the Ducks couldn't clear the puck and Michael Amadio slung a shot through from the left wing circle. Gibson was solid otherwise, racking up 44 saves on 46 LA shots.
"We just wanted to make sure we were playing the right way," Gibson said. "Changed things up a bit and executed our system night in, night out. I thought we did a really good job."
Anaheim got one back a couple minutes later when Carter Rowney punched in a puck slipped to him on a blind between-the-legs pass from the crease by Jones.
Video: LAK@ANA: Rowney tallies off of Jones' backhand feed
A rare Korbinian Holzer goal midway through the second gave the Ducks' their first lead, as Jones made another fantastic cross-ice pass that Holzer banged into the open net after sneaking back door. It was the first of the year for Holzer and fifth of his NHL career. It was also the first multi-point game of Jones' young 30-game career.
Video: LAK@ANA: Holzer pots Jones' perfect feed
"I kind of still knew how to do it," Holzer said. "Jonesy made a great play. He gets most of the credit. I just had to put it in the open net. I slid down, and luckily he found me. It feels good in the last game to get a goal to get rid of the donut on the stat sheet. Always feels good when you score and contribute. I'm not the biggest goal scorer, so it's nice to be a part of that."
Late in the period Anaheim made it 3-1 on a one-timer by Daniel Sprong off a Devin Shore feed on the rush.
Video: LAK@ANA: Sprong beats Campbell with one-time blast
The Ducks virtually put the game away with 11 1/2 left on a shorthanded goal by Steel, the beneficiary of a feed on the doorstep by Jakob Silfverberg, who had just gotten done undressing Kings defenseman Drew Doughty.
Video: LAK@ANA: Silfverberg dangles, feeds Steel for SHG
After the Kings got within two with five mintues left, Silfverberg brought the crowd to its feet with an empty-net goal after picking up a loose puck at the red line. It was a team-leading 24th of the year for Silfverberg and surpassed his previous career high.
Video: LAK@ANA: Silfverberg scores empty-net goal
Not long after that, the longtime Ducks-Kings animosity emerged in a brawl behind the net Anaheim that produced a number of penalties (including three 10-minute misconducts), a fitting end to the rivalry for another season.
As bad as things have gone for the Ducks most of this year, the Kings have been worse, and it's the first time since 2004 that both the Anaheim and LA have missed the playoffs the same season.
"That's the hardest thing in sports," said Getzlaf on the lack of meaningful games down the stretch. "We've gotten used to playing in the playoffs and having those stretch drives late where we're competing for spots. When you're out that early, and that far behind, that's a tough way to play hockey at the end of the year."
The Kings finish their season with the rest of the league tomorrow, and both teams have Tuesday's NHL Draft Lottery to took forward to now. The Ducks (35-37-10) will finish 12th or 13th in the in the Western Conference (depending on what happens tomorrow), while the Kings (30-42-9) will end the season dead last in the conference and 30th in the league. And yet, tonight was the first time the Ducks defeated the Kings in four games this season.
"I think we ended this thing on the right note in the last 20 games," assistant coach Mark Morrison said. "There was a big change. We were harder to play against. Good on the guys in the room. They did a good job to finish it off. I know we're not in the playoffs, and that's a sad point for us, but we played the right way in the last 20-25 games."