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Avalanche wrap up season series with Kings

by Brian Hunter

KINGS (31-22-6) at AVALANCHE (37-16-5)


Last 10: Los Angeles 2-8-0; Colorado 6-4-0

Season series: This is the final game between the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche. The first two were played at Staples Center and required more than 60 minutes to decide. Jamie McGinn's overtime goal and a shutout from Semyon Varlamov led the Avalanche to a 1-0 win Nov. 23. Anze Kopitar had the decisive goal in a shootout when the Kings responded with a 3-2 victory Dec. 21.

Big story: The Olympic break came at an opportune time for the Kings, who lost nine of 10 prior to a 2-1 overtime win against the Columbus Blue Jackets in their most recent game Feb. 6. The Kings are four points clear of ninth place in the Western Conference as play resumes. The Avalanche are firmly positioned in third place in the Central Division, 10 points in front of the fourth-place Minnesota Wild, and remain in the running for the division title.

Team Scope:

Kings: Five of Los Angeles' first seven games out of the break will be on the road, including a back-to-back that ends Thursday at the Calgary Flames. The Kings have a three-game trip through central and western Canada from March 6-10.

Goal scoring will need to improve down the stretch; the Kings' 2.25 goals per game average ranks ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres (1.82). The Kings lead the NHL with a 2.10 goals-against average and goaltender Jonathan Quick comes off a strong overall performance for the United States at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but he slumped in the weeks prior to the break and could use a little extra support.

"It's the stretch run. It's playoff-type hockey now," forward Justin Williams said in the Los Angeles Times. "We've dug ourselves a little bit of a hole and, fortunately for us, we're still in a playoff spot."

Avalanche: This is the start of a three-game homestand for Colorado, which plays seven of nine at Pepsi Center during the next 17 days.

The Avalanche will be without defenseman Erik Johnson against the Kings and Phoenix Coyotes after he received a two-game suspension for a slash on Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders in the final game prior to the break.

The Avalanche also will spend the rest of the season without forward Alex Tanguay, who underwent hip surgery and played in 16 games in his first season back in Colorado. The Avalanche went 15-1-0 with him in the lineup. But with Matt Duchene, fresh off winning gold for Canada in Sochi, headlining a group of five forwards with at least 40 points, there's no lack of depth.

"I think we've gotten some good work done in these first few days of practice," goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said in the Denver Post. "We've been working hard and not just trying to get in shape. We have worked on specific parts of our game, and hopefully that will make us well prepared to play Wednesday night."

Who's hot: Kopitar had two goals and three assists in four games for the Kings leading up to the Olympics. Defenseman Drew Doughty was one of Canada's best players in Sochi, scoring four goals with two assists. … Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog carried a nine-game point streak (four goals, eight assists) into the break. Rookie Nathan MacKinnon is on an eight-game point streak (five goals, six assists).

Injury report: Los Angeles defenseman Alec Martinez (elbow), who hasn't played since Jan. 25, is practicing fully. … Colorado defenseman Cory Sarich (back) is on injured reserve.

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