LOS ANGELES >> Another night, another lost opportunity.
The Kings had their chances Thursday at Staples Center.
They couldn’t capitalize.
The Kings continued to skate in place, huffing and puffing and moving their skates in an activity that resembled forward motion. But they didn’t get anywhere in particular during a 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins and, in fact, they lost ground in the Stanley Cup playoff chase.
The Calgary Flames and the Nashville Predators, the teams just ahead of the Kings in the race for the two wild-card spots in the Western Conference, won Thursday. The Flames defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Predators beat the Colorado Avalanche.
Calgary, fourth in the Pacific Division, leads the fifth-place Kings by four points.
Nashville, fourth in the Central, increased its lead to five points.
“Just a constant theme, chasing the lead,” coach Darryl Sutter said after the Kings fell to 29-27-4 after losing for the sixth time in their past eight games following a five-game wining streak. “Need the top end of your lineup to overcome that.”
Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak (power play), Dominic Moore (empty net) and David Krejci (empty net) scored for the Bruins, winners of five of their past six games since firing Claude Julien as coach and replacing him with Bruce Cassidy on Feb. 7.
Rookie defenseman Kevin Gravel (power play) scored the lone goal for the Kings, his first in the NHL. Leading scorer Jeff Carter (29 goals) failed to score for the fifth consecutive game and second-leading scorer Tanner Pearson (19 goals) didn’t score for the third game in a row.
What’s worried Sutter most during the Kings’ recent slide?
“(Lack of) production from the top end, absolutely, 100 percent,” he said.
The Kings had only three shots on goal in the third period, which isn’t an ideal formula to rally from a 2-1 deficit to start the final period. The Kings outshot the Bruins by 28-25 overall, but scoring chances were few and far to come by, particularly in the third.
“Chasing the lead,” Sutter said. “You put the puck in and all they’re doing is banging it out and banging it in. It’s tough to get any zone time. As I said, that really had nothing to do with it. But it’s very difficult to chase the lead.”
Kings goaltender Peter Budaj had no chance to stop Marchand’s laser from the dot in the right faceoff circle and the Bruins had a 1-0 lead lead before the game was four minutes old. Marchand’s team-leading 26th goal of the season hit the back of the net at 3 minutes, 16 seconds.
Marchand swiped the puck from Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin, who was then forced to hook the Bruins’ top scorer in an attempt to slow him down as he raced ahead of the pack. Marchand was knocked off stride only momentarily, however.
Gravel’s tying goal, off an alert cross-crease pass from 20-year-old rookie Adrian Kempe, tied the score at 1-1 at 18:12 of the first period. Kempe corralled a rebound off a perimeter shot from defenseman Alec Martinez and instead of forcing a shot, he spotted Gravel and passed to him.
Pastrnak put the Bruins ahead 2-1 at 4:43 of the second period, converting on a one-timed shot that snapped his stick and fooled Budaj. Pasternak accepted a cross-ice pass from Ryan Spooner and scored his 26th goal, matching Marchand for the Bruins’ lead.
Budaj started for the 13th consecutive game and his streak is likely to continue Saturday when the Kings face the Ducks in the fourth of five games between the Southern California rivals. In fact, Budaj is expected start every game until Jonathan Quick is sound enough to play again.
Quick suffered a serious groin injury during the Kings’ season-opening game Oct. 12 in San Jose and, although he has resumed practicing with his teammates, there is no firm date for his return to the lineup. Budaj has played in 53 games in Quick’s absence.
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