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At the Rink: Kings at Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- It took a while, but the Los Angeles Kings have climbed back into the Stanley Cup Playoff race, thanks to a five-game winning streak.

The defending Stanley Cup champions play the Colorado Avalanche, another team battling for their postseason lives, at Pepsi Center on Wednesday.

The Kings (26-18-12) are two points behind the San Jose Sharks for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The Avalanche (24-22-11), who have won two games in a row, are seven points behind. They're playing each other for the first time this season.

"We knew we never should have been as far back as we were," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We weren't playing even close to our capability, and now we're seeing what we can do when everyone starts to perform. We're happy with the way we're playing now, but we can't get ahead of ourselves. We have to continue this, we need to keep winning. We're still not in a playoff spot, so we still have a lot of work left to do."

The Kings went through a 2-6-4 stretch from Jan. 1-Feb. 5 before this winning streak. They've outscored teams 19-11 during the streak.

"I don't have a reason why we went through that stretch," Doughty said. "I just think players weren't playing their best. Some guys would play well one night and the next night they took it off. I think that's the biggest reason why we were losing so many games.

"We just needed a bigger sense of urgency, that it wasn't just going to happen overnight. We needed to do something about it. We never panicked. We go through these stretches every year. I think most of the guys on this team thrive under the pressure."

The Avalanche have gone 2-1-0 in the first three games of their four-game homestand and combined for nine goals in consecutive wins against the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes. They scored a power-play goal Monday against the Coyotes to end an 0-for-32 slump.

"We were joking on the bench that we were deadly -- 1-for-1 -- so we felt like we were hot," right wing Nathan MacKinnon said. "It's been a struggle, but we got it kicked off and it definitely takes a little pressure off."

MacKinnon realizes the Avalanche need to go on a big run to have any chance of making the playoffs after finishing first in the Central Division last season.

"It hasn't been the dream season that we wanted it to be," he said. "We're chasing in the standings and we need these points, but so do they. We're both on the outside looking in. These are definitely teams that we have to beat, especially at this point in the season."

Here are the projected lineups:


Marian Gaborik - Anze Kopitar - Trevor Lewis

Dwight King - Jeff Carter - Tyler Toffoli

Dustin Brown - Jarret Stoll - Justin Williams

Kyle Clifford - Nick Shore - Jordan Nolan

Robyn Regehr - Drew Doughty

Jake Muzzin - Matt Greene

Brayden McNabb - Jamie McBain

Jonathan Quick

Martin Jones

Scratched: Andy Andreoff, Derek Forbort

Suspended: Slava Voynov

Injured: Alec Martinez (concussion), Tanner Pearson (leg)


Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Nathan MacKinnon

Maxime Talbot - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla

Alex Tanguay - John Mitchell - Dennis Everberg

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Paul Carey

Jan Hejda - Zach Redmond

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Brad Stuart - Nick Holden

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Scratched: Daniel Briere, Stefan Elliott

Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (fractured kneecap), Erik Johnson (knee), Jamie McGinn (back surgery), Borna Rendulic (broken leg), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jesse Winchester (concussion)

Status report: Quick will start for the 11th game in a row for the Kings. … Varlamov will make his 14th consecutive start for the Avalanche.

Who's hot: King has four goals and three assists in a four-game point streak. … Carter has two goals and five assists in a four-game streak. … Iginla has two goals and five assists in a four-game streak. … Duchene has two goals and four assists in a four-game streak.

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