TV: FS-A+ (HD), FS-W (HD)
LAST 10 : Phoenix 6-2-2; Los Angeles 4-4-2.
Season Series: The Kings have won three of four against the Coyotes this season, including a 1-0 overtime win in their latest meeting on Jan. 5 at Staples Center.
Big Story: Few races will be more fraught with drama than those for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. The two teams holding those spots will face off Thursday night, but with several other teams right on their tales, the loser Thursday may not stay in the top eight for long.
Coyotes: Like "The Little Engine that Could," the Coyotes have chugged their way into the top eight in the West despite an underpowered offense. Phoenix has yet to lose in regulation this month, going 5-0-1 in its last six games, and as a result the Coyotes have climbed into eighth place in the West, clinging to a one-point lead in the race for the final playoff spot.
Much of this is due to the unbelievable recent stretch by starting goalie Mike Smith, who is likely to start after sitting out the Coyotes' last game, a 2-1 shootout loss to Vancouver Monday night. That can only spell trouble for Los Angeles. Smith has won his last five starts, giving up more than one goal just once in that span. If Smith can keep his game up over the next week it could have a huge impact -- the Coyotes' next four games are all against teams against which they are competing directly for a postseason berth.
Kings: L.A. currently sits seventh in the West as a result of having fewer regulation and overtime wins than sixth-place Chicago, but it's remarkable that the Kings are even that high given how much the offense has struggled this season. L.A. has the fewest goals in the League, which makes its 4-2 win against Dallas on Sunday night not only crucial to its playoff hopes, but also surprising as the four scores were a veritable explosion compared with the Kings' typical output.
In a strange twist, two of those four goals for the Kings' were the first NHL tallies for Jordan Nolan and Dwight King, two players with a grand total of 10 NHL games between them. L.A. can't count on minor-league call-ups to carry the load, of course, but it's looking like that could be OK if the Kings can continue to count on goalie Jonathan Quick. New York's Henrik Lundqvist has gotten much of the publicity in the Vezina Trophy race, but Quick has put together a .934 save percentage and 1.91 goals-against average. In his last 22 starts, he's only given up more than two goals three times.
Injury Report: Los Angeles' Jarret Stoll was placed on IR last week with a lower-body injury. Simon Gagne has been on IR since late December with a concussion. … Derek Morris (strained groin) and Taylor Pyatt (upper-body injury) are both questionable for Phoenix.
Stat Pack: It's hard to overstate Quick's impact on the Kings this season. There might be no better signifier than L.A.'s goal differential, which is even right now largely due to Quick's stellar play compensating for an anemic offense. The Kings have scored fewer goals than last-place Columbus, which has lost 15 more games than Los Angeles.
Puck Drop: As the season hits the stretch games between playoff hopefuls will get more and more crucial, but it's hard for a February game to have more implications than this. If Phoenix can win in regulation Thursday, it will leapfrog L.A. for seventh place, which would put the Kings in perilous territory. Calgary, Colorado and Dallas are all lurking right behind the top eight.