Blues-Kings Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 22, 2012
Maintaining their spot among the top eight teams in the Western Conference remains the primary focus for the Los Angeles Kings. Avoiding a first-round matchup with the West-leading St. Louis Blues might also be worth thinking about. Hoping to better their playoff position, the Kings look to extend their season-best winning streak to six games when they host the Blues in a potential postseason preview Thursday night. Los Angeles (36-25-12) has won five in a row and eight of 10 to grab hold of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. If the current conference standings were to hold up, the Kings would face St. Louis (46-20-8) in the first round. However, Los Angeles is one point behind Pacific Division-leading Dallas. The difference between first and second in the crowded division - which has its top four teams within three points of each other - is third and eighth in the conference. Though the Kings know they have a chance to possibly take over the Pacific lead with a win Thursday, they simply want to focus on extending a season high with a sixth straight home win. "I don't know if you want to wait until the end of the year to play like this, but we're doing it now," said forward Anze Kopitar, who has four goals and three assists in the last four games. "It's nice to see us in the playoff picture, but we know there's still a lot of work to be done. We're definitely showing signs." Kopitar and Mike Richards each had a goal with two assists in Tuesday's 5-2 home win over San Jose. The Kings have outscored their opponents 21-10 during the five-game overall winning stretch. "You can feel the room coming together," defenseman Willie Mitchell told the Kings' official website. "We've got a lot of work to do. If we get in (the playoffs), we can be a pretty scary team." Los Angeles has not made things easy on the Blues while going 2-1-0 against them this season. Though Jaroslav Halak made 22 saves in St. Louis' 1-0 victory in the teams' last meeting Feb. 3, the Kings snapped a four-game home skid in the series with a 5-0 win Oct. 18. Jonathan Quick made 27 saves in that contest and stopped 32 shots in last month's defeat at St. Louis. He has a 1.96 goals-against average during his personal four-game winning streak. Kopitar has two goals and an assist against the Blues this season while Richards has one goal with two assists. St. Louis has already clinched its first playoff berth since 2009 and leads second-place Vancouver by five points in the West, but the Blues have lost three of four since opening a seven-game road trip with a 2-1 win at Columbus on March 11. Jaden Schwartz scored his second goal in as many NHL games Wednesday and David Backes added his team-leading 22nd, but St. Louis blew three one-goal leads en route to a 4-3 loss at Anaheim. The Blues fell to 37-1-1 when scoring at least three goals this season. "Points are crucial for us, and we've got to bear down and be better in those situations," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "It's a little uncharacteristic of us to blow three one-goal leads, let alone one. We've been so good at that this year." St. Louis' David Perron has four goals in his last six games overall, but Backes has been held without a point against the Kings in 2011-12.
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