A night after the Kings were too despondent to speak after a six-goal loss, they fared only marginally better as they fell to the Colorado Avalanche, 5-1, in what could only be described as a merciful end to their season on Thursday night at Ball Center in Denver.
The Kings finished the season with the NHL’s eighth-worst record, but their draft lottery position could still improve even though their season is over. The Vancouver Canucks have four fewer points than the Kings, but still have five games remaining due to COVID-related postponements.
On the flip side, Colorado secured home ice throughout the playoffs with its victory. The Avalanche finished in a points tie with the Vegas Golden Knights, but earned the tie-breaker based on having more regulation victories. Colorado won both the West Division title and the Presidents’ Trophy for the league’s best record. This was the first time the Avalanche have won the Presidents’ Trophy since 2000-01, when they went on to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Colorado had to win its last five games to accomplish those feats, and it did so by winning four of those games without top center and leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon, who did not play Thursday.
Kings wingers Andreas Athanasiou and Austin Wagner were unavailable for the season finale due to injuries. They were replaced by Matt Luff, who had last played on April 24, and Drake Rymsha, who made his NHL debut.
Defenseman Sean Walker scored the lone goal for the Kings, who wrapped their season on an 0-4-1 skid. Troy Grosenick made 38 saves in the 31-year-old’s fourth career start and his second for the Kings.
Center Tyson Jost racked up two goals for Colorado. Center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, winger Joonas Donskoi and winger Andre Burakovsky, who added an assist, also scored. Right winger Mikko Rantanen and defenseman Connor Timmins each pitched in with two assists. Backup goaltender Jonas Johansson made 21 saves to help the Avalanche finish 7-1 against the Kings this season.
Like Wednesday the third period was largely an exercise in watching seconds tick off the clock as the second-intermission score once again stood as the final in a perfunctory period for both sides.
As they have done throughout the season, the Avs turned it on in the second period. They have scored the most goals and allowed the fewest in the middle frame in the NHL this season, producing a staggering +44 second-period scoring differential.
Just before the midpoint of the game, Colorado drew even and less than two minutes later took the lead, both on goals by Jost. The Avalanched scored four goals in just more than seven minutes.
First, Gabriel Landeskog lobbed the puck into the offensive zone on a diagonal dump-in that was recovered by Rantanen. As all five Kings were at the faceoff circle or lower between the center right and right side of the zone, Rantanen sent the puck across the ice to where three Avs were trailing the play, led by Jost. He glided into the left faceoff dot and fired a wrist shot past Grosenick.
Next, it was Rantanen carrying the puck into the zone, curling back toward the blue line and sending the puck across the ice to Timmins. Timmins kept his head up, spotting Jost on the doorstep, who had beaten Olli Maatta with an outside-inside cut into prime real estate. His picturesque redirection off another seam pass put the Avs up, 2-1, with his second goal in the span of 1:52.
Then it was Bellemare, a grinding center, who scored in consecutive games for the sixth time in his career. Like the night before, he stuffed it in off a Jayson Megna rebound. Bukarovsky went wide and chucked the puck on net from a sharp angle to generate a rebound. Megna followed up and Grosenick made a second save, but Bellemare’s ninth goal of the year extended the Avs’ advantage.
Colorado’s fourth goal came on a play in which the Kings got pieces of the puck, first on Timmins’ shot that went wide, then on center Nazem Kadri’s pass across the crease, which Grosenick deflected upward. Donskoi knocked the puck out of the air and into the net for his career-high 17th goal.
With 2:10 left in the second period, Kings winger Brendan Lemieux and Colorado defenseman Ryan Graves fought after Lemieux checked defenseman Samuel Girard to the ice. Lemieux controlled most of the action in the ephemeral tilt.
With 62 seconds left in the period, Colorado gained the offensive zone during a four-on-four sequence. Burkavosky trailed the play as defenseman Devon Toews skated between three Kings and then passed him the puck between all four. Bukakovsky whipped a wrist shot from between the circles. That was his 19th goal of 2020, which was one shy of the career-high he set last season, in which he played five more games than this year.
The first period proved nightmarish Wednesday and while Thursday’s opening 20 minutes bore some similarities – all possession metrics were 75 percent or higher for Colorado and it out-shot the Kings 12-4 – the Kings came away with a 1-0 lead.
Grosenick was sharp, making a pair of commanding glove saves and generally quieting the Avs as they clamored for a goal.
WIth 44 seconds left, Walker made a superb individual effort. He picked up Burakovsky behind the Kings’ net, draping himself over the Swede and pursuing him back toward the blue line. An alert stick check knocked the puck loose and Walker pounced, darting ahead on a breakaway. His no-frills stick-handle to the forehand for a wrist shot between the pad and glove of Johnasson.
Walker has five goals and 18 points in 2021, but he finished strong with two goals and eight points in eight games this month.
Colorado opens a first-round series on Monday against St. Louis, which wound up with the fourth seed in the West. The home-ice advantage could come in handy: Colorado is 16-0-1 in its last 17 home games.
The Kings gave out their regular-season awards, which were predictably dominated by center Anze Kopitar and defenseman Drew Doughty. Defenseman Mikey Anderson won the award for Best Newcomer and winger Trevor Moore was recognized as the Kings’ Unsung Hero. … Four Kings will represent the United States and three Kings will represent Canada at the World Championships this month in Riga, Latvia. Participation seems tepid overall after a season in which players were burdened by a litany of restrictions designed to minimize the impact of COVID-19.