At some point, the Penguins will clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the eighth year in a row.
The bigger immediate question might be what kind of shape the Penguins will be in when they get to the postseason.
They needed just a point against the Los Angeles Kings to clinch that spot -- anything other than a regulation loss -- but fell, 3-2, Thursday night at Consol Energy Center.
It was the Penguins' third loss in a row, and, while this game had a fresher smell to them -- "There was certainly a response by our team in this game," coach Dan Bylsma said -- there was a glaring reason for the loss.
Los Angeles served up seven power plays to the Penguins, including four tripping minors by the Kings. The Penguins produced 11 shots with the man-advantage, but no goals.
"One of those would have been nice," said winger Chris Kunitz, who scored the Penguins' first goal as they came back from a 2-0 deficit and tied the score, 2-2, on Taylor Pyatt's second goal in as many games.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty got the winner at 3:51 of the third period on a shot from the top of the right circle.
The game came with an all-too-familiar downside for the Penguins. Forward Marcel Goc left the game late in the second period.
Goc was sent into the boards by Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin behind the Los Angeles net. He appeared to jar his left ankle or knee and needed assistance to get off of the ice and to the locker room. There was no update on his status.
Goc got an assist on Pyatt's tying goal, a shot from the far edge of the right circle that caught Kings goaltender Martin Jones on the right shoulder. The puck dropped beside Jones and dribbled over the goal line to make it 2-2 at 15:43 of the second period.
Every game of the Penguins' four-game homestand, they faced an opponent's backup goaltender. In this one, Martin Jones stopped 35 of the Penguins' 37 shots, including all of them during 13 minutes of the Penguins' power plays.
"We practiced it this morning and we had lots of practice [in the game], too," Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said of his team's penalty-killing.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby, who had a game-best five shots, pinned the loss on the failed power plays.
"We expect to do more on seven power plays," he said. "When you get seven in a game, that doesn't happen too often. It's too bad we couldn't make more of those."
The Penguins thought they might have had the tying goal at 9:41 of the third period.
Center Brandon Sutter took several whacks at the puck, which eventually crossed the goal line. There was no immediate call from the referees, and the play went into a review.
It was ruled that the puck -- and a few players -- crossed the goal line before the net came off of its moorings, but the referees consulted and decided to rule that Sutter had interfered with Jones.
"The puck was shot on net. The puck was loose in the crease," Brandon Sutter said. "I was jamming away at it the whole time, and it went in."
Asked if he pushed Jones' arm, Sutter shrugged.
"I probably did," he said. "I got shoved [into the net], too. Not much we can do about it now."
While the timing of the net coming off of its moorings is reviewable, the goaltending-interference call is not. Perhaps it should be, Bylsma noted, saying: "I am a huge advocate of having it be reviewable. It's way too tough of a call for the referees to make on the ice."
The call didn't deflate the Penguins, who continued to go hard at the Kings, a defensively stingy team.
It was a more inspired performance than in the loss Tuesday night against Phoenix by the same score, but that wasn't cause for celebration, Crosby said.
"I think you expect to compete every night," he said. "It's good we bounced back, but I think that [level of play] is what we expect every night. That should be automatic."
The Penguins also started their backup goaltender. Jeff Zatkoff made 29 saves, and each of the three goals he allowed were deflected.
Los Angeles, which tied a franchise record with its eighth road win in a row, took a 1-0 lead on Jeff Carter's power-play goal at 15:23 of the first period. He deflected in a shot from the right point by Marion Gaborik. The Kings added to the lead one second after a power play expired. A shot from the top of the slot by Alec Martinez appeared to hit a Penguins player and knuckled in at 6:59 of the second period to make it 2-0.
The Penguins erased that deficit but couldn't end their losing streak.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published March 27, 2014 9:47 PM