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Kings doomed by lack of production in first-round sweep

Failure to solve Fleury, injuries on defense costly in playoff loss to Golden Knights

by Dan Greenspan / NHL.com Correspondent

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup for the second time in 2014 but have not won a playoff series since.

The Kings were eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference First Round on Tuesday, their second playoff appearance in the past four seasons ending in a four-game sweep. 

Under first-year coach John Stevens and first-year general manager Rob Blake, the Kings qualified as the first wild card from the Western Conference into the playoffs but struggled with consistency. Los Angeles went 12-2-2 to start the season before losing six of its next seven. An eight-game winning streak in December was offset by six straight losses in January.

The Kings were resilient; they won 12 games when trailing after the first period, most in the NHL, and were able to overcome the absence of center Jeff Carter for 55 games after he had surgery to repair a cut tendon in his ankle. 

But that resiliency ran out against the Golden Knights.

Here are 5 reasons the Kings were eliminated in the first round:

 

1. Not enough offense

"Obviously, you can't win the series scoring three goals total," center Anze Kopitar said. And the math checks out.

The Kings didn't create enough scoring chances and couldn't capitalize on the ones they did generate. Vegas put pressure on the Los Angeles defensemen to limit their shots from the blue line, and the Kings forwards struggled to enter the zone or get positioning in or near the crease.  

Kopitar had two points in the series after having 92 points (35 goals, 57 assists) in the regular season, his best in 12 NHL seasons. Forward Dustin Brown had one assist after getting 61 points (28 goals, 33 assists) in the regular season, his best in 14 seasons in the NHL. "That '70s Line" of Carter, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli did not have a point after being key offensive contributors in 2014, and the Kings received no production from their bottom two lines.

"I just think you need a push from the middle sometimes to get over the hump against good teams like Vegas that are really deep," Stevens said after Game 4.

 

2. Depleted defense

After being relatively healthy during the regular season, aside from the injury to Carter, those fortunes changed prior to the playoffs, when defensemen Jake Muzzin (upper body) and Derek Forbort (lower body) were injured. Muzzin, who was third on the Kings with 34 assists, missed the first two games of the first round. Forbort did not appear in the playoffs after getting 18 points (one goal, 17 assists) and a plus-18 rating in 78 regular-season games.

The absence of Muzzin and Forbort, along with the suspension of Drew Doughty for Game 2 after an illegal check, forced Los Angeles to rely on inexperienced Oscar Fantenberg, Paul LaDue and Kevin Gravel for heavy minutes early on. They played well considering the circumstances, but the offensive ability and savvy of Muzzin and Forbort could have made a difference.

 

3. Slow starts

The Kings gave up the first goal in three of four games; playing from behind in the postseason is not sustainable, and Los Angeles found out the hard way.

The Kings came out strong in the in the first period of Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center, but led 1-0 in Game 3 and could not score in Game 4. The inability to build a lead allowed the Golden Knights to dictate play in the second and third periods in each case.

Video: VGK@LAK, Gm4: McNabb pots slick dish from Smith

 

4. Fleury bested Quick

Jonathan Quick had a 1.55 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in the series but could not match Marc-Andre Fleury's 0.65 goals-against average and .977 save percentage. Fleury got more help, offensively and defensively, and that proved pivotal. 

"The goaltending on both sides was stellar," Kings forward Kyle Clifford said. "[Quick] played unbelievable, gave us a chance every night. We just had to put a couple more on the board for him."

Video: Fleury shines again as Golden Knights sweep Kings

 

5. No luck

With each game in the series decided by one goal, Los Angeles could have extended the series by getting a favorable bounce here or there. In Game 3, Toffoli hesitated on a one-timer in front of an open net, and Brown had a pass bounce over his stick alone at the back post. Fleury denied Kopitar with an outstanding glove save in the third period of Game 4. 

In short, the Kings never got the break they needed, which wasn't the case in 2014, when they won three Game 7s.

 

***

 

Complete Coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Predators vs. Avalanche

Jets vs. Wild

Golden Knights vs. Kings

Ducks vs. Sharks

Lightning vs. Devils

Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Capitals vs. Blue Jackets

Penguins vs. Flyers

 

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