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At the Rink: Kings at Canucks

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- The Los Angeles Kings appear comfortable with playoff-style hockey before the Stanley Cup Playoffs start.

The Vancouver Canucks are learning as they go, knowing how they fare in three remaining games against the defending Stanley Cup-champion Kings could play a big role in them making the playoffs at all this season. The first of those three games is Monday at Rogers Arena.

"It's not the same game. There is a switch that flips," Vancouver center Shawn Matthias said. "It's tough hockey; it's different. You see a team fighting for a playoff spot. It's going to be like a playoff game out there. You learn a lot about how hard you have to battle."

That type of hockey is old hat for a lot of the Kings.

In addition to winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, Los Angeles made the Western Conference Final in 2013. They had to fight late into the season to secure the final playoff berth in the Western Conference in 2012. For all their playoff success they haven't finished the regular season in the top half of the West during the past five seasons.

"We're never like, 'Let's take a break and turn it on end of season.' It doesn't happen that way,' Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "So we aren't happy about it. But we are in the position we are in now and we have to do something about it and get into the playoffs."

The Kings are three points behind the second-place Canucks in the Pacific Division, and two points behind the third-place Calgary Flames. They also trail the Winnipeg Jets by one point for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference and are four behind the Minnesota Wild for the first wild card. But the Kings play the Flames and Wild once in their final 16 games and don’t have any games left against the Jets, which makes the three against Vancouver important.

"We are kind of happy we have to see them three times because if we can win those three games it gives us a better chance," Doughty said. "For both teams it's pretty much a must-win."

Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter pointed out that almost half his roster was not part of the prior playoff experiences, and Matthias talked about Vancouver still having seven players that were part of the trip to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

"A lot of guys that have made the playoffs and gone far know how tough this stretch is and the guys that are new to it are learning pretty quickly," Matthias said. "There's no time to sit back and take a breath; you have to dive in and fight as hard as you can. This is the toughest stretch of the season. That final 20 [games] is like a dogfight out there."

Canucks rookie center Bo Horvat already has noticed the change.

"Oh yeah, huge," Horvat said. "Everybody wants to win so badly and make the playoffs and the intensity has gone up that much more. You are fighting to the end to get pucks out or to win a big draw. Or going hard to the bench at the end of a shift, or going hard into the corners to finish a check, or backchecking that extra inch to catch that guy and get into position. All the little things. It's a different game. Harder-hitting, more intensity, and it's pretty great."

Here are the projected lineups:

KINGS

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

Brayden McNabb - Andrej Sekera

Jake Muzzin - Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick

Martin Jones

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

Scratched: Andy Andreoff, Jamie McBain

Suspended: Slava Voynov

CANUCKS

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Zack Kassian

Shawn Matthias - Nick Bonino - Radim Vrbata

Derek Dorsett - Linden Vey - Alexandre Burrows

Ronalds Kenins - Bo Horvat - Jannik Hansen

Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev

Dan Hamhuis - Luca Sbisa

Ryan Stanton - Frank Corrado

Eddie Lack

Jacob Markstrom

Scratched: Brandon McMillan, Adam Clendening

Injured: Ryan Miller (knee), Kevin Bieksa (broken hand), Brad Richardson (foot), Chris Higgins (upper body), Yannick Weber (upper body)

Status report: Los Angeles did not expect to make any lineup changes after beating the Colorado Avalanche 5-2 on Tuesday, with Quick starting his sixth straight games and playing for the 23rd time in the past 24. … The Canucks will make one change, re-inserting rookie Kenins onto the fourth line after two games as a healthy scratch. He has 10 points in his first 16 NHL games, but his physical play fell off the last two and he was benched in favor of McMillan. "For me it is important to play every game hard and do the simple things," Kenins said. "A couple of the last games I got a little bit fancy so probably that wasn't a smart idea."

Who's hot: Horvat has goals in two straight games and has scored eight of his 11 goals in 21 games since the All Star break. … Carter has five goals in his past five games. … Gaborik has three goals and one assist in his past four games.

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