KINGS (25-16-10) at BLUES (29-13-7)
TV: FS-W (HD), FS-MW (HD)
Last 10: Los Angeles 5-2-3; St. Louis 7-1-2
Season Series: Third of four meetings. The Kings have taken the first two, getting a pair of goals from Simon Gagne and 27 saves from Jonathan Quick in a 5-0 win on Oct. 18 in Los Angeles, and the tiebreaking score from Willie Mitchell with 5:49 remaining for a 3-2 win on Nov. 22 in St. Louis.
Big Story: The Blues have had plenty of time to gear up for the stretch run. They're the last team to get back into action following the All-Star break and will be playing for the first time in 10 days. They'll also be aiming for their NHL-leading 22nd home win before heading out on a three-game road trip.
Kings: Improving upon the League's 30th-ranked offense (2.16 goals per game) would be one surefire way for Los Angeles to improve upon its current seventh-place standing in the Western Conference and challenge San Jose for the Pacific Division crown and a top-three seed. While the onus is on everyone to contribute, fourth-year defenseman Drew Doughty has been on pace for his worst scoring totals since his rookie season. Doughty came up big Wednesday, however, scoring a power-play goal with four-tenths of a second left to give the Kings a 4-3 win over the Blue Jackets.
"I knew the puck was just kind of scrambling around there, and I didn't know if our all teammates were just kind of swarming the crease there," said Doughty, whose goal was his fourth of the season and second in 35 games. "I was just kind of coming in late. I didn't think anyone was going to see me. I was yelling, and Jack (Johnson) made a great play. He probably could have shot it, but instead he saw me coming in and just gave a little touch to me. Getting a quality shot from there, it's pretty hard to miss. It was a good game."
Blues: Despite entering the break off back-to-back losses to Detroit and Pittsburgh, so much has gone right in St. Louis since Ken Hitchcock took over as coach in early November. The Blues are poised not only to make the playoffs for just the second time in seven seasons, but they are within striking distance of the West-leading Red Wings with three games in hand. They've only lost three regulation games at Scottrade Center all season but will need to improve upon a mediocre 8-10-3 road record with 20 of their final 33 games taking place away from home.
"We're going to have some real battles, and if we want to be a good team, we're going to have to grow from our last two games, because we're there, but if we want to beat these teams and we want to be a top team, we've got to grow," Hitchcock said.
Who's Hot: Doughty has 1 goal and 3 assists in the Kings' last two games, the first time this season he's put together consecutive multi-point efforts. … Patrik Berglund scored both goals for the Blues in their Jan. 24 shootout loss to the Penguins, his first two-goal game since last April. He converted a penalty shot in the third period to ensure the team a point.
Injury Report: Gagne has been on injured reserve since late December with a concussion and won't be available for Los Angeles. … Similarly, a concussion has kept St. Louis forward Andy McDonald out since mid-October, while forward Alex Steen has been out since late December due to concussion-like symptoms. Both are on injured reserve along with defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle).
Stat Pack: Doughty's goal was the latest game-winner by a Kings player since Josef Stumpel beat the Flyers with three-tenths of a second left on Feb. 11, 1999. … Berglund's successful penalty shot was the first for a Blues player since David Backes beat Antero Niittymaki of the Sharks on Dec. 18, 2010.
Puck Drop: St. Louis enters Friday's action tied with the New York Rangers for the best team goals-against average (1.96) and has the most shutouts of any club -- All-Star Brian Elliott already has five, tying his career high, while Jaroslav Halak has four. It's just one of the factors that bodes well heading into crunch time.
"We're definitely excited to get back where we're at right now at this point in the season," forward T.J. Oshie said. "We'll definitely take it. We want to be better, but we'll take it and we'll be ready to go after the break."