ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Adrian Kempe had three goals and an assist and the Los Angeles Kings clinched third place in the Pacific Division on Thursday night with a 5-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks, who will have the best odds in the draft lottery after finishing with the NHL's worst record.
Captain Anze Kopitar scored a first-period goal that made him Los Angeles’ leading scorer for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons, while Kempe and Trevor Moore scored 49 seconds apart in the second period of the 159th regular-season edition of the Freeway Faceoff.
Kempe completed his fourth career hat trick on an empty-net goal with 1:39 to play, and dozens of visiting Kings fans littered the ice in celebration. Roughly 40 minutes after leaving the ice, the Kings learned they'll face Edmonton in the first round for the second consecutive season.
Shaking off a 2-5-0 skid that scuttled their chances at the division title, the Kings won their final two games to finish with 104 points, the second-most in franchise history behind the 1974-75 squad (105).
“It's nice to have the feeling of positive morale, positive momentum going into (the playoffs),” Kings defenseman Mikey Anderson said. “We've found some ways to score goals and had a couple of physical games as well, so that's all been good for us.”
Troy Terry, Max Jones and Trevor Zegras scored for the Ducks, who wrapped up one of the worst NHL seasons of the 21st century on a 13-game winless streak. Coach Dallas Eakins' contract is finished after his fourth consecutive losing season, but the rebuilding Ducks have made no announcement about his future.
“There's a number of things that we're very proud of,” Eakins said. “I am proud that in a game like this where it's our last game, we know it's totally over, that they still had some rage in them. I thought they went out and battled hard and really kept the love of the rivalry between us and the Kings.”
Anaheim’s silver lining on its NHL-low 58 points is the best chance in next month’s draft lottery to win the right to select Connor Bedard, the Regina Pats center considered the most tantalizing prospect in hockey since Connor McDavid.
Anaheim will have only a 25.5% chance of securing its first-ever No. 1 pick in the NHL draft. But the Ducks can fall no lower than third in the lottery, which means they will get a premium prospect in a top-heavy field headlined by forwards Bedard, Adam Fantilli and Matvei Michkov.
Joonas Korpisalo made 21 saves for the Kings, and John Gibson stopped 31 shots for Anaheim.
“It’s never easy losing games like that,” Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said. “We’re all competitive people and want to do well, but I think I’m proud of the way we stuck together. We never cracked as a team and continued to support one another.”
Anaheim missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, extending the longest drought in history for a team that had never missed more than three straight postseasons. The Ducks had a pathetic season by nearly every measure, ranking last in the NHL in goal differential (minus-129) and goals allowed while ranking 31st in goals scored (209).
Statistically, the Ducks were the worst defensive team of the past quarter-century. Their 338 goals allowed were the most by any NHL team in the past 26 seasons since the 1995-96 San Jose Sharks gave up 357, while their goal differential was the NHL's worst since the 1999-2000 Atlanta Thrashers (minus-143).
The Ducks’ players have been justifiably uninterested in their team’s draft lottery status as their season limped on, and Terry underlined that stance by scoring just 2:44 into the season finale.
But Los Angeles evened it late in the first period when Kopitar knocked down a high puck from Kempe and scored his 28th goal of the season. In the second, Kempe got a delayed goal after video review, and Moore scored moments later on a 2-on-0 rush.
Zegras scored his 23rd goal with 5:09 to play, trimming Los Angeles' lead to 4-3. After a lengthy brawl, Kempe finished off the victory.
Kevin Fiala missed his sixth consecutive game for the Kings with a lower-body injury. The playoff availability of Los Angeles’ high-scoring Swiss forward is unclear, but Kopitar used the final game to break his tie with Fiala atop the team’s scoring leaderboard.
Defenseman Alexander Edler and forward Gabe Vilardi also remained out of the Los Angeles lineup with significant injuries.
Mason McTavish sat out for Anaheim with an upper-body injury, finishing his rookie season with 43 points in 80 games.
Kings: Vs. Edmonton in first-round of playoffs.
Ducks: The draft lottery on May 8, when they'll hope to land a franchise-altering talent.
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