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Blue Jackets aim to spoil Kings' playoff chances

by David Kalan
KINGS (37-25-5) at BLUE JACKETS (31-26-9)


Last 10:
 Los Angeles 5-3-2; Columbus 3-3-4

Season series:
 The Kings lead the season series 2-1 after taking their most recent meeting with the Blue Jackets 4-3 on Feb. 16 at Nationwide Arena.

Big story:
 A recent slump has probably done in Columbus in its hunt for a second-ever postseason berth, but the Kings, despite a slump of their own, are still in the top eight. That grasp on a playoff spot is tenuous at best for Los Angeles, however, and without a strong showing on their current road trip, the Kings could soon wind up on the outside looking in.

Team Scope:

 The Kings opened February with a stunningly long 10-game road trip, and not even that prevented them from a huge month in the standings in which they went 8-2-3. Well, after dropping three of five since returning to the City of Angels, it seems the Kings just might be happier away from home, and if they aren't, they ought to learn to be. L.A. is back on the road now for a four-game stretch, and if this trip goes poorly, the Kings could drop from the top eight, where they currently sit in the logjam of teams that has jockeyed for position all season.

The current sojourn got off to a good start with an impressive 2-1 win in Detroit on Wednesday, but with the Kings' offense struggling, much of that is courtesy of Jonathan Quick, who has stopped 61 of the last 64 shots he's faced. Anze Kopitar has been a force in the middle lately, Justin Williams has four points in the last three games, and after missing the scoresheet in his first game with L.A., Dustin Penner now has a point in three straight. Beyond those three, however, the Kings are lacking in production. If the rest of the team doesn't begin to pitch in more frequently, they'll be lacking in spring plans, too.

Blue Jackets:
 Two weeks ago, Columbus too had hopes of playing in the spring, but the Jackets have been beaten down by a frustrating skid which reached six games Wednesday night at Nationwide Arena. The debilitating losing streak, which has seen all but one game decided by one goal, has knocked Columbus eight points back of the final spot in the West, and after getting swept in a home-and-home by struggling St. Louis this week, the picture looks dimmer than it has all season.

It may be too late for the Jackets to wake from their slumber and get back in the race, but any chance they do have is largely incumbent upon captain Rick Nash, who has gone seven games without a goal, and netminders Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon, both of which have seemed out of sorts lately. Mason is 0-2-2 with a 3.44 goals-against average in his last four games, while Garon has fared little better. For Columbus to have any hope of challenging for a postseason berth, those three will need to turn their games around quickly.

Who's hot:
 Despite L.A.'s anemic offense of late, Kopitar has still managed to string together several impressive weeks, tallying 16 points in the last 13 games. ... In Columbus, Jakub Voracek has 2 goals and 3 assists over the last three games.

Injury report: Columbus is without defenseman Anton Stralman, who should miss 1-2 more weeks with a left knee inury, as well as Kristian Huselius, who has been on injured reserve since Feb. 19 with a lower-body injury. … Los Angeles boasts a healthy roster with the exception of Scott Parse, who has been out since November with hip surgery.

Stat pack:
 Quick has been a strong performer in his last two games, and unless L.A.'s offense wakes up, he may need to stay that way for the Kings to stay in the race. L.A. has scored a paltry seven goals in its last four games.

Puck drop: 
It is probably too late for the Jackets to climb back into the race, but if they learn to play the spoiler role well enough they just may do it anyway. Starting that trek back won't be easy against good teams or desperate ones, and even if they haven't played like it lately, the Kings are both. Los Angeles has looked like it belongs among the League's elite at times this year, and if the Kings don't start to come out with elite performances on a nightly basis, they may not get another chance to look like they belong.

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