LOS ANGELES — In their final game of the 2007-08 season, the Los Angeles Kings dropped a 4-3 decision to the Anaheim Ducks in front of a sellout crowd of 18,118 fans at Staples Center on Saturday afternoon.
It was a rather fitting end to yet another miserable, disastrous season.
Ducks winger Teemu Selanne scored two goals while Ryan Getzlaf scored a goal and added an assist for the Ducks, while Dustin Brown, Brian Willsie and Patrick O’Sullivan scored for the Kings.
Brown opened the scoring at 12:24 of the first period when he wristed the puck on net from the left circle, beating Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere through a screen.
The goal was Brown’s 33rd goal of the season to finish the season as the Kings’ goal-scoring leader. The mark is also a career-high for Brown.
Ducks defenseman Joe DiPenta scored on a point shot through traffic at 19:10, beating Kings goaltender Dan Cloutier.
Just eight seconds later, Selanne scored after he stole the puck at right point from Kings defensemen Jon Klemm and then made Kings defenseman Rob Blake look like his skates were cemented to the ice in the slot before he backhanded the puck into the wide open right side of the net after he faked Cloutier into the next county.
The Ducks’ two goals in eight seconds set a new team record for their fastest two goals scored. The record was previously held by Selanne and Chris Kunitz, who scored ten seconds apart against the Phoenix Coyotes on November 30, 2005.
Willsie tied the game with his fourth goal of the season, knocking in a rebound of a point shot by Kings defenseman Tom Preissing at 2:21 of the second period.
Just 1:05 later, the Ducks capitalized on a Kings’ turnover in the neutral zone, giving Getzlaf a partial breakaway. He beat Cloutier high with a backhand over his right leg pad for his 24th goal of the season to give the Ducks a 3-2 lead.
One minute later, Kings winger Patrick O’Sullivan dug out a loose puck in the right corner and skated into the right circle where he fired a wrist shot that beat Giguere over his left shoulder. The unassisted goal was O’Sullivan’s 22nd goal of the season, a career-high.
Selanne scored the game-winner at 6:28 of the third period on a wrist shot from the left circle through traffic.
With the loss, the Kings’ season certainly ended in a manner that is probably rather fitting for a team that escaped the basement of the National Hockey League standings only because they have one more win than the last place Tampa Bay Lightning, now the odds-on favorite to get the first pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in June.
Both teams ended the season with 71 points.
“That was probably symbolic of how we played this year,” said Kings head coach Marc Crawford. “We made a couple of mistakes—turnovers that ended up costing us.”
“If you look at the game as a whole, it was fairly even,” added Crawford. “We probably had the better of the chances, but we gave up the big chances. Whenever you play a team and don’t make them work for their chances, you’re not giving yourself the best opportunity to win.”
After the game, with their season over, the focus was not so much on the game and its outcome. Instead, the Kings were looking towards next season.
“We can be confident for next year,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar. “The guys really came together, especially in the last month. We were playing good hockey and we’re going for it next year.”
Kopitar set new career-highs with 32 goals and 45 assists for 77 points in 82 games. Last season, his rookie year, he scored twenty goals with 41 assists for 61 points in 72 games.
To be sure, the “sophomore slump” never reared its ugly head in Kopitar’s case.
“I was kind of scared in the beginning,” said Kopitar. “Luckily, it didn’t happen. I’ve got to thank my teammates who played hard with me all the time. I pretty much played with Brown and O’Sullivan all the time, so a lot of credit goes to them, too.”
Brown’s breakout season has established him as a serious offensive threat as opposed to a player who is known only for his physical play.
“It was a good year for me, disappointing from a team standpoint,” said Brown. “I felt good all year and I stayed healthy all year, which is a big part of being successful.”
Brown attributed his breakout year to a variety of factors.
“I think it’s a mixture of opportunity, experience and confidence,” he explained. “Once you get on that high of confidence, that’s when you feel that you can play against anybody and do anything you want out there—there’s been games where I’ve felt like that.”
Speaking of breakout years, O’Sullivan, who scored five goals with 14 assists in 44 games with the Kings in his rookie season last year, exploded for 22 goals and 31 assists for 53 points in 82 games this season.
“It feels really good,” said O’Sullivan. “Any time you have people doubting you, and that was happening last year because it didn’t go as planned for me, but to prove to the organization what I was able to do and more importantly, prove to myself because I always knew what I was capable of doing.”
That doubt came last season when O’Sullivan’s work without the puck and on defense was clearly not where it needed to be.
To his credit, O’Sullivan worked hard on those aspects of his game during a 41-game stint with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, and when he returned to the Kings, he looked like a different player. And after an off-season spent working hard on his conditioning and even participating in the Kings’ Development Camp for their young prospects, he improved his game even more.
To be sure, although no one would categorize him as one of the top forwards in the league, O’Sullivan has become a complete player who can be an impact player with or without the puck and in the offensive or defensive zone.
“To be doubted—that’s happened to me in the past,” he explained. “I knew how to handle it, I knew what I had to do to have a successful year. I wasn’t playing much at the beginning. It took me twenty games to get myself a chance to start playing a little more and playing in more offensive situations. Once that happened, it kind of took off.”
“I’m happy that I did it the right way and that I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”
Another story from this game was the future of veteran left wing Scott Thornton, who is very, very likely to retire after eighteen seasons in the NHL.
“That’s pretty much it, yeah,” said Thornton. “I’ve tried to prepare myself for the last month of the season and try to lay it all out there. It’s been a great season and a great career. I’m ready to move on.”
“I’m not one hundred percent [certain that he will retire], but I’m probably as close as you can get to it,” added Thornton. “I’ve tried to prepare for it, so I think that’s the next step, to move on. I still love to play, but my body is telling me otherwise.”
After eighteen seasons of rugged play, Thornton’s body is telling him to hang up the skates.
“It’s too hard now,” he explained. “It’s too much preparation every day. I went through a lot of injuries again this year. It’s time to move on.”
“It’s tough,” he elaborated. “You don’t bounce back as easy as you do when you’re a little bit younger. You try and do all the right things to prepare, but it’s hard. I used to show up right before practice when I was younger. Now it’s an hour to an hour-and-a-half preparation just to get yourself ready to get on the ice and compete.”
“It’s the best hockey in the world and you have to do that to try and keep up with these guys.”
Thornton, who played two seasons for the Kings, scoring twelve goals with nine assists for 21 points in 104 games, had only one thing missing from his NHL career.
“I wish I could’ve won a Cup, but I had an opportunity and lost with Dallas,” he said. “No regrets. I walk away knowing I made a lot of life-long friends.”
“I’ve always stayed true to myself, stayed grounded,” he added. “After eighteen years, I don’t think it’s changed me as a person. I feel that I can go back home to my family and friends and carry my head high.”
Thornton said that he was happy to play a role in the development of the Kings’ young core and he believes in their rebuilding process.
“It’s just been exciting,” said Thornton. “It’s been a privilege to see these guys grow over the last two years. Hopefully, I’ve been a big part of it.”
“I have a lot of belief in Dean Lombardi,” added Thornton. “He built the San Jose Sharks. He put that team together over the past ten years and now he’s going to try and rebuild here. There’s a great, strong nucleus in that locker room, starting with Kopitar, Dustin Brown and moving on through the lineup, guys like Jack Johnson who are up and coming.”
If Thornton retires after this season, he will end his NHL career with 144 goals and 141 assists good for 285 points and 1,459 penalty minutes in 940 regular season games with the Kings, Sharks, Stars, Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
NOTES: The Ducks won the season series, 6-2-0; During the game, the Kings assigned goaltender Daniel Taylor to the Reading Royals of the ECHL; The Kings ended the season with four players (Brown, Kopitar, Alexander Frolov and O’Sullivan) who scored twenty or more goals; Saturday’s game was the Kings’ thirteenth sellout. The Kings sold out nine games last season.
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