CALGARY — Opposite to what most would have predicted six months ago, the Calgary Flames are going to the playoffs while the Los Angeles Kings are heading home.
Jiri Hudler scored twice and added an assist Thursday night as the Flames clinched their first playoff spot in six years with a 3-1 victory over the Kings.
The Kings saw their post-season aspirations come to an end with the loss. It is the first time since the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006-07 that the defending Stanley Cup champions have failed to make the playoffs the following season.
“What an amazing feeling. After we scored that empty-netter, the building was electric,” said Hudler, whose 31st goal with 50 seconds left to clinch it came with the raucous sell-out crowd of 19,289 already standing and giving Calgary a thunderous ovation.
“I’m very proud of them. We believed in training camp. We really believed,” said Flames coach Bob Hartley.
Johnny Gaudreau also scored for Calgary (45-29-7), which wraps up the regular season in Winnipeg on Saturday. The Jets clinched the second wild-card spot with the Kings loss.
Jordan Nolan scored for Los Angeles (39-27-15), which finishes the year winless in its final five games on the road (0-4-1).
“It’s hard to put stuff into words right now. We’re certainly not satisfied and are very disappointed,” said Kings centre Anze Kopitar. “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. It’s too tough coming down the stretch, this time of year, to be playing catch-up.”
After being outshot 15-8 in the opening 20 minutes, the Kings held a 12-4 edge in shots in the second period but couldn’t cut into the deficit.
“It’s a big disappointment for our group that expects to be in the playoffs. That’s not an expectation from outside, it’s an expectation from inside,” said captain Dustin Brown.
The Flames will play the Canucks in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. What is still to be determined, however, is whether that series will begin in Calgary or Vancouver.
Calgary is two points back of the Canucks, who wrap up the year Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers. The Flames own the tie-breaker.
“We have a skilled team here and I knew coming in we had a special group. It just shows tonight,” said Gaudreau.
Calgary jumped out to a 1-0 lead at 12:15 on Gaudreau’s goal then surged in front 2-0 just over two minutes later when Hudler picked the top corner with a hard 40-foot slapshot.
“That was the perfect combination,” said Hartley. “Score early, build a lead. We knew they would make a push. We paid a price for this win.”
Nolan got the Kings on the scoreboard five minutes into the third period but that was the only puck to get past Jonas Hiller, who had 33 saves.
“To be able to beat the defending Stanley Cup champions to make the playoffs makes it even more special,” said Hiller, who improves to 26-19-4 “It starts sinking in that we’re going to be playing a few more games. I’m really happy. I’m happy for myself. I’m happy for the team. I’m happy for all of Calgary.”
Jonathan Quick finished with 22 stops to fall to 35-22-13.
The atmosphere in the Scotiabank Saddledome was electric with a great majority of fans wearing red jerseys.