When the Los Angeles Kings traded away one of their veteran goal scorers earlier this month, it appeared they were resigned to missing the playoffs for a third straight season.
But the final playoff spot in the West Division continues to be up for grabs, and the Kings are one of four teams still in the hunt heading into their game Friday night against the visiting Minnesota Wild.
Los Angeles was five points behind the Arizona Coyotes for fourth place in the West entering Thursday and the Kings had played four fewer games.
The Coyotes had taken advantage of a seven-game losing streak by the St. Louis Blues to overtake them for fourth place in the West, but Arizona has since earned just two points in its past eight games.
The San Jose Sharks were in position to overtake both Arizona and St. Louis, but they’ve lost their past seven games.
The Kings haven’t exactly seized their opportunity, but they’ve gone 3-3-0 in the past two weeks to stay within striking distance, even while trading forward Jeff Carter to the Pittsburgh Penguins for two future draft picks.
“We’ve had a bit of a rough stretch a little bit ago and we’re still in reach of a playoff spot,” Kings forward Blake Lizotte said. “We feel that we can get there. It’s playoff hockey this time of year, and the intensity is going to continue to ramp up. I think we just need to focus on the details of our game. When we take care of our details, we’re tough to beat.”
Minnesota has gone 5-2-0 against the Kings so far this season with three wins coming in overtime. The Wild entered Thursday three points behind the Colorado Avalanche for second place in the West.
Look for the Kings to keep close tabs on Wild rookie Kirill Kaprizov, who scored his 19th goal of the season in a 4-1 win against the Coyotes on Wednesday night to break the single-season franchise record for a rookie.
Kaprizov had already surpassed the previous franchise high for points in a season by a rookie, and with goals in each of the past three games, he’s the first Minnesota player to have two three-game goal streaks in his rookie season.
Kaprizov has also dinged Los Angeles for four goals and three assists in seven games this season.
“It’s undeniable that he’s taken this team and moved it to the next level with his play,” Minnesota forward Nico Sturm said. “He’s obviously getting targeted out there sometimes by the other team. They know that he’s one of our best players.”
Wild goalie Cam Talbot is 3-0-0 against Los Angeles this season and will likely get another opportunity to continue his hot streak, both against the Kings and overall.
Talbot is 5-0-1 in his past six starts, but he’s not taking credit for all his success.
“This group is extremely resilient,” Talbot said. “That’s one of our best qualities right now.”
The Kings will host fans for a second consecutive game, something that makes a big difference to the players, Los Angeles coach Todd McLellan said.
“That tape of that generic fan noise, we can throw that thing away,” McLellan said. “I hope I never hear that again. It was nice just to hear the fans get excited (the last game), hear the fans get upset, it felt right finally.”
–Field Level Media
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