CALGARY, Alberta — Ok, who predicted this: The Calgary Flames are going to the playoffs while the Los Angeles Kings are heading home?
Jiri Hudler scored twice and added an assist Thursday night as the Flames clinched their first playoff spot in six years with a 3-1 victory over the Kings.
The Kings saw their postseason aspirations end — the first time since the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006-07 that the defending Stanley Cup champions have failed to make the playoffs the following season.
"What an amazing feeling. After we scored that empty-netter, the building was electric," said Hudler, whose 31st goal with 50 seconds left came with the raucous sell-out crowd of 19,289 already standing and giving Calgary a thunderous ovation.
"I'm very proud of them. We believed in training camp. We really believed," said Flames coach Bob Hartley.
Johnny Gaudreau also scored for Calgary (45-29-7), which wraps up the regular season in Winnipeg on Saturday. The Jets clinched the second wild-card spot with the Kings' loss.
Jordan Nolan scored for Los Angeles (39-27-15), which finishes the year winless in its final five games on the road (0-4-1).
"It's hard to put stuff into words right now. We're certainly not satisfied and are very disappointed," said Kings center Anze Kopitar. "We just didn't play good enough hockey this year. Too much inconsistency, four and five-game losing streaks, and you can't do that. It's too tough coming down the stretch, this time of year, to be playing catch-up."
After being outshot 15-8 in the opening 20 minutes, the Kings held a 12-4 edge in shots in the second period, but couldn't cut into the deficit.
"It's a big disappointment for our group that expects to be in the playoffs. That's not an expectation from outside, it's an expectation from inside," said captain Dustin Brown.
The Flames will play the Canucks in the first round. Still to be determined is whether that series will begin in Calgary or Vancouver.
Calgary is two points behind the Canucks, who wrap up Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers. The Flames own the tie-breaker.
"We have a skilled team here and I knew coming in we had a special group. It just shows tonight," said Gaudreau.
Calgary took a 1-0 lead on Gaudreau's first-period goal, then surged in front 2-0 when Hudler picked the top corner with a hard 40-foot slap shot.
"That was the perfect combination," said Hartley. "Score early, build a lead. We knew they would make a push. We paid a price for this win."
Nolan got the Kings on the scoreboard five minutes into the third period, but that was the only puck to get past Jonas Hiller, who had 33 saves.
"To be able to beat the defending Stanley Cup champions to make the playoffs makes it even more special," said Hiller, who improved to 26-19-4. "It starts sinking in that we're going to be playing a few more games. I'm really happy. I'm happy for myself. I'm happy for the team. I'm happy for all of Calgary."
Jonathan Quick finished with 22 stops to fall to 35-22-13.
NOTES: With Lance Bouma (upper body) sidelined, Brandon Bollig returned to Calgary's lineup. ... Dressed as Hiller's back-up was Joni Ortio. The Flames' top goaltending prospect was activated Thursday after missing six-plus weeks with a high ankle sprain suffered in the AHL on Feb. 20. ... Calgary has gone more than 11 periods since its last penalty kill. ... Calgary last faced Vancouver in the playoffs in 2004. The Flames won in seven games on their way to the Stanley Cup.