The importance of a late-season meeting between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks isn't lost on Kings forward Milan Lucic.
Especially when so much is on the line, including a shot at claiming the Pacific Division title on Thursday at Staples Center (10:30 p.m. ET; FS-SD, PRIME, FWS-W, NHL.TV).
"Playing against a team that also has something to play for, so it's going to be that playoff-type of game right before the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs," Lucic said following the Kings' 5-4 overtime win against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday. "I think that's why we're all looking forward to that game Thursday night. It's a big one for both teams."
The Kings and Ducks each have 99 points to top the Pacific. Los Angeles has two games remaining; Anaheim has three.
A win would go a long way to solidifying a division title for the victor. The division champion would play the first wild card, the Nashville Predators in the first round. Whichever team doesn't win the division will play the San Jose Sharks with home-ice advantage still undecided. San Jose has won five more games than Nashville.
The Ducks have won three of four meetings with the Kings this season, including three straight, but the Kings hold the tiebreaker for non-shootout wins (44-41).
"It makes it a huge game," Lucic said. "The last three times against us, they've won all three in regulation. It's a huge divisional game. There's still an opportunity for us to win that division. Winning this game [against Calgary] is a big one to set up Thursday night. All of us are looking forward to that."
The Kings have struggled since clinching a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on March 19. Los Angeles has won three of nine games, and avoided a three-game losing streak by rallying against the Flames, who have already been eliminated from the playoffs.
"It's a big game," said Kings forward Jeff Carter, who scored the game-winner 40 seconds into overtime against the Flames. "We want to win the rest of the games here and get on a roll. I think the main focus is really dialing in our game. We've got a lot of work to do still, cleaning up some errors in our game and whatnot. We've got a few games left here to do it."
The Ducks are 6-2-2 in the past 10 games, including a 2-1 loss against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. The Jets tied the game with 3:46 left in regulation before winning in overtime.
"It's always big playing against a cross-town rival," Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said Wednesday. "Both teams want to obviously win the division. Anytime you go up into L.A., it's going to be a hostile environment in there. [It's] extremely difficult to play in that building, especially … it should be a good one on Thursday."
Anaheim closes out the regular season with road games against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday and the Washington Capitals on Sunday. Los Angeles finishes at home against the Jets on Saturday.
A win against the Ducks would help the Kings push into the playoffs on a more positive note, Lucic said.
"Your goal to when you start the season is to make the playoffs, and then finish as high up in the standings as you can," Lucic said. "That's still a goal of ours before the playoffs start, but I think the most important thing moving forward is get our game and identity back to what it was that got us the playoff spot. The last eight or nine games since we clinched a playoff spot, we haven't really been that great of a team, especially defensively, giving up a lot of goals.
"We've got to get better in that area to finish the season here before the playoffs start, and I think that's the most important thing."