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Morning Skate: A Playoff Preview?

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Possible first round playoff match up? We'll know Sunday.

The Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes are different teams, built in different ways with different styles, but they share a certain kinship right now.

Entering this season, neither team had made the playoffs since 2002 and neither was expected to, at least by the majority of league pundits.

So it’s been a season of celebration for both teams, as they prepare for their sixth and final regular-season meeting, tonight at STAPLES Center.

The Coyotes, on the verge of relocation just six months ago, are locked into fourth place in the Western Conference. The Kings currently sit in sixth place but could move up to fifth tonight and be in position for a Kings-Coyotes first-round series next week.

"I know Phoenix has had a tremendous year," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "They had an incredible amount of change in their lineup from last year, to make a decision to go from youth to sending a lot of those guys to the minors for more seasoning and then collecting and signing free-agent players.

"Bringing them together is a hard thing, and it's a great job. They're rallying around, I would believe, the mantra of, `Let's make sure we're doing the best job to keep the team here.' It's great to see them make that move to get into the postseason. It's nice to see change. It's nice to see different teams get the opportunity to play in the postseason."

The Kings know they’re in the playoffs, but their first-round opponent is still anyone’s guess. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that the Kings won’t know their fate until all of Sunday’s regular-season-ending games have been completed.

Chicago, San Jose, Vancouver and Phoenix are the Kings’ possible first-round opponents, and Murray said his staff is already beginning the process of preparing for each of the potential first-round opponents.

"I haven't worried about it, but I do look at it and see what the possibilities might be," Murray said. "I haven't played out all of the different scenarios that could unfold, but it's time to start focusing in on potential candidates, opponents, and getting yourself prepared for meetings, for video, and get that kind of mindset in place.

"I know there's a lot of things that can still happen, and we want to make sure that we're doing our best job to try to win the remaining games and keep elevating our game to the playoff level that's going to be demanded."

NO CHANGES
Murray said he would go with the same lineup that he used Tuesday in Anaheim. Murray has been tinkering with the fourth line of late, but was pleased with the play of center Brad Richardson and wingers Raitis Ivanans and Rich Clune.

"I thought they were our best line, actually, in the 60 minutes [Tuesday]," Murray said. "A lot of good things from the very beginning, with attitude, puck possession, cycling. We want to keep them going. They deserve another game because of their play."

Murray also said that Jeff Halpern, who has been out with an upper-body injury, has been cleared to play, and indicated that Halpern might get into one of the final two games.

"It's going to be important to get him into a game," Murray said. "There's no question. We brought him here for a reason. He's a very useful player. He's a good player, playing center, right wing, can move to the higher lines. It's going to be important to have him at close to the peak of his game, so he needs some playing time to get there."

THEY’RE ALL SET
The fourth line might be subject to change this week, but Murray said that he intends to stay with his three current defensive pairs going into the playoffs.

For the past several games, the Kings have had Rob Scuderi paired with Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson paired with Randy Jones and Sean O’Donnell paired with Matt Greene.

"Yes, I'm set there," Murray said. "It is what it is right now. We've used these six players, and the pairs specifically, for the last several games now, and I think it's settling in. We'll start with that."

TALKING IT OUT
Jonathan Quick, pulled from Tuesday’s game early in the second period, had a "long meeting" with goalie coach Bill Ranford on Wednesday, Murray said. Quick will be back in goal tonight against the Coyotes.

Quick is 0-3-1 in his last four decisions and has been pulled from two of his last six starts.

"There's conversations going on," Murray said. "You kind of have to walk that fine line of overdoing it. Previous conversations, throughout the year, have been short. They've been, `Hey, let's get back and get focused again. Let's get your concentration level up.' That's, in a nutshell what is required, and he has come right back.

"As I mentioned yesterday, structurally, technically in his game, everything is fine. There's just that concentration level that sometimes can get off the mark, and you need to get it back there."
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