After playoff hopes fade, Ducks lose

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The locker room was deathly quiet, because the Ducks' playoff life had slipped away. Never mind what was going on in Vancouver, where the Avalanche was playing. The Ducks had a three-goal lead at one point, and a two-goal lead going into the third period. And in the end the only thing they had to show for it was disappointment and the prospect of a long offseason.

The Ducks were beaten by the Kings 5-4 in a shootout Tuesday at the Honda Center, with Anze Kopitar making a nice finesse move to reach around Ducks goalkeeper Curtis McElhinney for a 2-1 advantage.

Game, set, season.

It salvaged a night for the Kings (44-27-7), who had already backed their way into the playoffs. Early on, they looked like they had senioritis with graduation on the horizon. Graduation, though, is a breeze compared to the NHL playoffs.

"The second half of this game is what we need to look at and bring it through the rest of these regular-season games and carry it through to the playoffs," said Terry Murray, the Kings' coach. "The checking gets harder, the physical play gets heavier and nastier, and you have to pay a price to go and score."

The Kings won despite falling behind 3-0 on first-period goals by Jason Blake and Teemu Selanne and a second-period score by Bobby Ryan. Selanne added a second goal for a 4-1 lead later in the second period, giving him five in the past four games.

But the tenacity of the Kings' fourth line -- Brad Richardson, Rich Clune and Raitis Ivanans -- eventually reached all corners of the bench. Down 4-2 going into the third period, the Kings got goals from Justin Williams and, at 18:51, Michal Handzus to force overtime.

Then, down in the shootout, the Kings got goals from Jack Johnson and Kopitar.

By that time the Ducks (38-31-9, 86 points) -- who have three games remaining -- already had been eliminated from the playoffs, because Colorado earlier had defeated Vancouver 4-3 in a shootout to clinch the final playoff berth. Colorado has 93 points.

"Today was a game that was very similar to many that we've played this year. Disappointing," said Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer. "We just wanted to go out and play as well as we could. Whether you're first in the league or last, that should always be your mindset, to go out and compete hard and play as a team and try and be as good as you can. That's what we've been trying to do. I think we did early on and had our feet moving to generate things, then started to watch. They obviously turned it up, were more aggressive, but we've played many games this year where we had a lead and started watching and the other team works back."

Through three periods, the Kings outshot the Ducks 40-21, but the Ducks held a 7-2 advantage in the overtime. It was the first loss for McElhinney, who had been 4-0-1 since arriving in a trade from Calgary and filling in for Jonas Hiller, who has suffered back spasms.

"Maybe you think you're safe with a two-goal lead, but at this point you're going up against a playoff-contending team," McElhinney said, "and we just sat back and let them take it to us in the third."

The Ducks had made the playoffs in all four previous seasons under coach Randy Carlyle.

"We can be better than what we were as a hockey club," Carlyle said. "We had some peaks and some valleys, and the valleys cost us."

The Ducks got off to a slow start this season, and they were 0-4-1 coming out of the Olympic break but made a strong late-season push by going 8-2-1 before the setback Tuesday. They are 4-0-2 in their past six games.

"This team has been under a lot of pressure, but you can't make excuses," Carlyle said. "We didn't play at a high enough level for 60 minutes, and tonight, 65."

Niedermayer agreed there was more left in the tank for the Ducks. "You should not be satisfied with what we've done this year," he said. "We're a better team than this."

Maybe so. They will have the entire offseason to think about it, and Murray knows what it will be like.

"Whenever you're in [the playoffs] and then you're out, it's devastating," he said. "It's a big blow. It hurts as a player, I've been there myself, I've been there as a coach. It's really hard when the season ends, you go two, three, four weeks and you're wondering, looking back, reflecting, and you're upset with yourself, you're mad at yourself, and finally you know you have to move on to get ready for the following season. It's really hard when you're a good hockey club not to make it."