KINGS (18-11-1) at BLACKHAWKS (17-14-3)
TV -- NHLN-US (HD), FS-W (HD), WGN (HD)
Last 10 -- Los Angeles 5-4-1; Chicago 6-3-1
Season series -- The Blackhawks have taken each of their first two meetings with the Kings, the latest a 2-1 victory on Nov. 27 at Staples Center, the finale of Chicago's annual Circus Trip.
Big story -- As the Kings follow Chicago's model of building a young title contender with a slew of maturing high draft picks, the apprentice gets another shot at the master in a potential playoff preview Saturday.
Kings -- As L.A. nips at the heels of first-place Dallas -- the Kings are four points back at the start of action Sunday -- it has been tough to contain. Maybe all the Kings needed was to get away for a while. With L.A. making the fourth stop on a five-game road trip Sunday, the Kings have scored 15 goals over their last three games, including a 6-1 thumping of Nashville, which had won five games in a row. Points are coming in bunches from all over the ice, with blueliner Drew Doughty notching 6 points in the last three games and forward Ryan Smith scoring 4 goals in the last four games.
While the contributions of those two are noteworthy, no one seems to be hitting the score sheet at the tremendous rate L.A.'s captain Dustin Brown has. Brown is currently in the midst of a seven-game points streak, during which he's figured into a goal 11 times. With an offense like this playing in front of goaltender Jonathan Quick on Sunday, the man with the third-most wins and fourth-best goals-against average in the League could be in for an easy time of it. Of course, goaltending has been a major part of the Kings' recent good fortune -- the team has won five of its last seven -- and with Quick coming off one of his worst outings of the year, a loss in St. Louis that saw him surrender five goals, he may be just as eager to match the performance of the men in front of him.
Blackhawks -- Sunday will be knitted hat giveaway night at the United Center, and given the brutal winters Chicago is known for, it wouldn't be surprising to see the fans leaving the game with their new headwear on. Of course, if the Hawks match L.A.'s recent torrid scoring pace, some of those knit hats might wind up on the ice instead. The Blackhawks have scored four goals or more in six of their last eight games, including two scores from Tomas Kopecky in an impressive 4-1 win over the Red Wings Friday night.
Those two points against Detroit made up some valuable ground in the Central race, but the Hawks still sit six points out of first place. Facing the Kings won't make it much easier to continue crawling up the standings, and L.A.'s blistering offense could be a real challenge for goaltender Corey Crawford. While Crawford is coming off a strong 29-save performance against Detroit, he had lost his previous three outings. Two of those losses came away from the United Center, however, where Crawford has won four of his last five starts. With Chicago spending four of its next five games at home, it could be high time for the Hawks to string some victories together.
Who's hot -- Bryan Bickell and Troy Brouwer have given Chicago a boost with a combined six goals in the last three games. … Anze Kopitar had a six-game point streak snapped in Nashville Saturday, but with 10 points over those previous six games, the Slovenian national has been particularly dangerous weapon lately.
Injury report -- Despite reports to the contrary, the Blackhawks announced Saturday that Patrick Kane (left ankle) will not play Sunday against the Kings. Viktor Stalberg (upper-body injury) will also miss the game, while Marian Hossa remains on IR. … The Kings are without Brad Richardson, who was placed on injured reserve this week with an upper-body injury. Matt Greene, who missed Saturday's game in Nashville with an upper-body injury, may also be unable to play.
Stat pack -- Los Angeles jumped out of the gate early Saturday in Nashville, scoring just 15 seconds into the first period. The Kings' eventual victory was their 14th when scoring first against just three losses, the seventh-best mark in the League by winning percentage. This could prove crucial Sunday if L.A. lights the lamp first. Chicago's mark when surrendering the first goal is just 4-8-1.
Puck drop -- The road has been bumpier than expected for both L.A. and Chicago, but the talent on each roster would make it a sizeable upset if either were to miss the postseason. For the Kings to validate their contender status, however, they may need to finally flex their muscle against the Hawks. The Kings haven't left the Windy City with a victory in nearly three years.