When Calgary lost to Chicago on Sunday to assure the Kings of their first playoff berth since 2002, Coach Terry Murray and his assistants shook hands, congratulated each other and quickly returned to plotting strategy for the last four games.
"We have to get ready and get the team ready to show some of the things we know we can do," Murray said of the Kings, who are seventh in the West and could finish as high as fourth — unlikely — or as low as eighth.
"It is a very hard thing to do, making the playoffs. Especially in the Western Conference, where there's so much parity. All the players need to be very proud of themselves."
But not arrogant enough to think their job is done.
The Kings, 7-7-3 since the Olympic break, have been wildly inconsistent with their special teams and defensive play. They killed 29 consecutive penalties but then yielded eight power-play goals in four games. They had a four-game winless streak, ended that with impressive victories over Nashville and Vancouver, but retreated by squandering a late 1-0 lead over the Ducks on Saturday and losing, 2-1, in a shootout.
"That game was an opportunity for two more points for ourselves and walk into the playoffs," Murray said. "Our compete level wasn't where it should be and we weren't doing the right things as far as structure, execution and our system."
The Kings set high expectations with a strong start that briefly put them fourth in the West, a tough standard to maintain with a young team. Core players Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick and Jack Johnson have never played an NHL playoff game and they've learned it isn't easy to get there.
"If we had approached this playoff spot from the bottom it's a Cinderella thing," General Manager Dean Lombardi said. "Ultimately, if you're going to be the top team you've got to learn to deal with expectations. Not only did they put themselves in playoff position, they approached it from the top down. They put the pressure on themselves."
Lombardi credited the scouts and coaches for their work and cited the emergence of Quick, Kopitar and Doughty as a key reason the Kings have reached the promised land in Lombardi's fourth season.
"This group of young players is as good as I've ever had, and maybe that's a function of why they emerged so quickly," he said. "We've got to continue to build on this. . . . We've still got a lot of work to do here."
Murray said he has no preferred playoff opponent in mind.
"We have four games left and my approach to those games is to win every one of them," he said. "I don't look at the possibilities. My job is to get this team to win every game and get our game in order."
The season will end April 11 and the playoffs will open April 14 and 15, with games staggered for TV scheduling.