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At the Rink: Kings at Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will be without captain Willie Mitchell when they face the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday in a battle of teams looking to make a late-season push for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Mitchell, who joined the Panthers as a free agent last July after helping the Kings win the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, sustained an upper-body injury in a 4-2 victory against the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

To replace the veteran defenseman, Florida recalled Steven Kampfer from the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League.

Kampfer has played in 61 NHL???games, but the most recent came March 31, 2012, when he was a member of the Minnesota Wild. The opponent that night also was Los Angeles.

Panthers coach Gerald Gallant said Mitchell, who has appeared in all 49 games this season, is day-to-day.

Florida (22-17-10) is ninth in the Eastern Conference standings, eight points behind the Washington Capitals and seven behind the Boston Bruins for the two wild-card spots, with two games in hand on each team.

The victory against the Islanders, highlighted by two goals by Jimmy Hayes, was only the Panthers' second in nine games (2-6-1).

The Kings (21-17-12) are in a three-way tie for 10th place in the Western Conference standings with the Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars and trail the eighth-place Vancouver Canucks by five points. Vancouver has a game in hand.

Los Angeles has won only two of its past 11 games (2-5-4) and lost the first two games of a five-game road trip, 3-1 against Boston on Saturday and 4-0 against Washington on Tuesday, the day after the team was honored by President Obama at the White House.

"We're obviously not the happiest group right now,"???defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We're not playing well. We're not winning games when we need to, and we need to start winning games quick. Now the mood has to kind of turn into a more urgent, more determined team. We've got a lot to play for every single game."

Los Angeles also will have a change on defense Thursday, but that one isn't the result of an injury. Jamie McBain, a healthy scratch the past nine games, will replace Brayden McNabb.

"It's not who's going in, it's who's going out that's got to play better for us,"???Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "Trying to win hockey games. Tough to develop players at this level. Better be ready to go or else you don't get to play."

The Kings won the first game between the teams this season, recording a 5-2 victory at home Nov. 18. Jeff Carter had a goal and an assist, and Anze Kopitar and McNabb each had two assists in that game. Los Angeles scored the first four goals in the second period.

"They're the defending champs,"???Gallant said. "We played them once this year in L.A. and I thought we played a real good game against them. It was a good, competitive game. It's a big game. You look at the standings for them, you look at the standings for us, and you want to make sure you're ready to play them. They're a big, strong team. They play hard. And when they play well, they're a really good team and they go hard to the net. It'll be a big challenge for our team tonight against these guys."

Here are the projected lineups:


Marian Gaborik - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown

Dwight King - Jeff Carter - Tyler Toffoli

Kyle Clifford - Jarret Stoll - Justin Williams

Jordan Nolan - Nick Shore - Trevor Lewis

Jake Muzzin - Drew Doughty

Matt Greene - Alec Martinez

Robyn Regehr - Jamie McBain

Jonathan Quick

Martin Jones

Scratched: Andy Andreoff, Brayden McNabb

Injured: Tanner Pearson (leg)


Jussi Jokinen - Nick Bjugstad - Jimmy Hayes

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Brad Boyes

Brandon Pirri - Dave Bolland - Tomas Fleischmann

Tomas Kopecky - Derek MacKenzie - Scottie Upshall

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad

Dmitry Kulikov - Erik Gudbranson

Steven Kampfer - Alex Petrovic

Roberto Luongo

Al Montoya

Scratched:?????????Sean Bergenheim, Shawn Thornton

Injured: Willie Mitchell (upper body)

Status report: After switching the healthy scratches the last few games, the Panthers will go with the same forward lines they used against the Islanders. … Kulikov and Gudbranson, Mitchell's two defense partners this season, will be paired up. … Quick will make his eighth consecutive start in net for Los Angeles. … Pearson will miss his ninth consecutive game because of a broken leg.

Who's hot:?????????Pirri had a goal in each of the past three games and has five goals in six games since being a healthy scratch for three consecutive games. … Quick has a 5-1-0 record with a 1.74 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage in six games against Florida.

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