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Kings Ready for Playoff Atmosphere Tonight

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Tomorrow, everyone can rest. Tonight, there’s a big game to be played.

Too often, the term ``playoff atmosphere’’ is tossed around, but the Kings and San Jose Sharks, tonight at STAPLES Center, will play a game that would seem to have deeper emotional significance than a standard late-January regular-season game.

The Kings and Sharks, expected to battle each other for the Pacific Division title this season, are now the bottom two teams in the division, but both remain within clear striking distance of the top eight in the Western Conference.

With a win tonight, the Kings could climb within one point of eighth place in the West. The Sharks, meanwhile, could climb back into the top eight, perhaps as high as sixth.

So with both teams on the verge of the NHL’s All-Star break, there will be plenty of motivation to finish strong tonight. The Kings are 1-2-0 against the Sharks this season, and tonight will be the fourth of six meetings between the intra-state rivals.

``It should be a good game,’’ Matt Greene said. ``We’ve got to even up the series here, and they need the points too. So it should be a nice battle, going into the break. The good news is that we’ve got four days off to rest up, so we can leave it all out there.’’

Kings coach Terry Murray said that, in his message to the team, he would focus on the details of the game, not the potential repercussions of the game on the standings.

``I'm not going to talk about the standings right now,’’ Murray said. ``I think the most important thing, to bring to everyone's awareness, is just the importance of continuing to play the way we have been, play our game, executing the proper way and finishing it off, before the break, before we get those days to refresh physically and mentally. It will be good for us, but we just want to follow up the games we have been playing.’’

Drew Doughty and Marco Sturm celebrate a win over San Jose earlier this season.
It’s tough to draw many conclusions from this season’s previous Kings-Sharks games.

They have been quite different. On Nov. 15 in San Jose, the Sharks scored three third-period goals and won 6-3. On Dec. 27 in San Jose, the Kings scored four third-period goals and won 4-0. On Jan. 1 at Staples Center, neither team scored in the third period, and San Jose's second-period goal held up in a 1-0 victory.

``I think, whenever you have both teams on their games, you're going to have real low-scoring games,’’ Murray said. ``I think the indicative game would be that 1-0 game here. With two teams competing and battling, it would be a one-goal game at the end of the day. For us to go up there and win the way we did one night, in a 4-0 win, that's a close game right to the end. We were going into the third period in a tight situation, and it just happens that you get some breaks.’’

The Kings will go with the same lineup, lines and defensive pairs tonight that they used Monday against Boston, meaning that, among other things, the Kings will stay with a top defensive pairing of Drew Doughty and Willie Mitchell.

That’s the look the Kings started the season with, but went away from for a while after injuries, at various times, to Doughty, Mitchell and Matt Greene.

This will be the fourth consecutive game with Doughty and Mitchell paired together again, and of late, Doughty has turned in some strong efforts.

Murray was careful, though, not to attribute too much of Doughty’s recent success to the pairing, noting that he also likes the pairing of Doughty and Rob Scuderi.

``What makes it work is whenever you can have a lefty-righty pair,’’ Murray said. ``Scuderi works really good with him, and Doughty enjoys playing with Scuderi as much as he does with Mitchell, and the same thing with Jack (Johnson). They really love to play together also. But it's important, I think, to have a lefty-righty. Scuds is the one player that is playing on his off side right now. He's a veteran pro, and he has no problem with it. In fact, he probably gives us his very best as a left-side D also, but this is the way it is.

``But I don't know if, with Mitchell and Doughty, if there's any special chemistry there, or anything different than what we would get with Scuderi there. Maybe we will end up back with Jack and Doughty, some day, too, down the road. They're dynamic, and they're a pair that are young and can grow together. We'll see how it plays out.’’

Forward Scott Parse celebrates a goal on Nov. 15 vs. San Jose.  He is still weeks away from returning from a hip inury.
Scott Parse, who underwent surgery in November to repair his hip labrum, likely remains several weeks away from returning to game action, but Parse has been doing daily rehabilitation skating and is making steady progress, Murray said.

``I'm not keeping track personally, but the updates I get are that he's progressing very well,’’ Murray said. ``That's Kinger [trainer Chris Kingsley] coming to me, maybe once a week, and just saying, `Everything is great, he's coming along.' He's still quite a ways away.’’

Marco Sturm remains on injured reserve with knee tendinitis, and it’s not yet known whether Sturm will be able to play during the Kings’ three-game road trip after the All-Star break. Sturm has been receiving off-ice treatment this week.

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