ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With their hopes for a division title on the line, the Los Angeles Kings look to stay out of the trap that foiled the Florida Panthers here Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Holding a tenuous lead over the Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division, the Panthers led the Wild late Thursday, before surrendering a late goal to Erik Christensen in regulation and another to Mikko Koivu early in overtime, essentially surrendering a point the standings.
Los Angeles, which defeated Edmonton 4-1 on Friday night, now leads the Pacific Division by a single point over both Dallas and Phoenix, and by two points over San Jose. A similar let down by the Kings Saturday would be a crushing blow.
Nobody more than Los Angeles knows the tenuous nature of the Western Conference playoffs. Just 72 hours ago, the Kings were in ninth place on the outside looking in. Saturday night, they begin play in third place and in the catbird's seat in the division.
The Kings scored in a variety of ways Friday in Edmonton, netting a power play goal, a short-handed goal and two even-strength goals. Jonathan Quick made 13 saves in the win, meaning it's likely Jonathan Bernier gets the start in goal against Minnesota tonight. Bernier stopped all 26 shots he faced against the Wild in the Kings' last trip to Minnesota Feb. 28. A win tonight would give them the season series.
The Kings did not arrive in the Twin Cities until 4 a.m. local time and had an optional morning skate. Only defenseman Davis Drewiskie and forward Kevin Westgarth took part.
The Wild also had an optional morning skate after a full practice Friday. Coach Mike Yeo said his team can take advantage of the schedule and jump on the Kings early. But that won't be easy, especially with what's on the line for the visitors.
"If you play the game the right way, and play a game that grinds them down a little more physically, certainly that can play into our favor," Yeo said. "But I don't expect fatigue to be a factor in these last games. These are crucial points for them and they're going to come in here and I expect a really strong effort from them."
The game marks the final contest of a four-game road trip for L.A. Getting the game to overtime would assure the Kings of a winning road-trip. With three games left after tonight -- two of which are at Staples Center -- the Kings control their own destiny.
"We got the two points. That's what we want," Sutter said after beating the Oilers. "All of the games are really important right now."
Minnesota will go with Niklas Backstrom again in goal. He stopped 25 shots, earning his 18th win Thursday over the Panthers -- his first game back after injuring his groin almost a month ago.
On the blueline, the Wild will play without Marco Scandella, who Yeo said is out with a minor upper body injury. Kurtis Foster will skate in his place. Scandella is expected to accompany the team to Chicago for its game there Sunday evening.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, is also likely to be without forward Jeff Carter, who injured his ankle Wednesday in Calgary. He was in a walking boot afterwards and did not play Friday. He is likely to be re-evaluated when the team returns to the West Coast after the game this evening.
Here is the projected lineup for both teams:
Dany Heatley - Mikko Koivu - Devin Setoguchi
Cal Clutterbuck - Kyle Brodziak - Darroll Powe
Jason Zucker - Erik Christensen - Nick Johnson
Jed Ortmeyer - Warren Peters - Stephane Veilleux
Tom Gilbert - Clayton Stoner
Steven Kampfer - Justin Falk
Kurtis Foster - Nate Prosser
Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Colin Fraser
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford - Brad Richardson - Jordan Nolan
Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene