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Canucks hit the road, get tough test in Kings

by Tal Pinchevsky
CANUCKS (40-16-9) at KINGS (36-24-4)

TV -- SNET-P (HD), FS-W (HD)

Last 10 --
Vancouver 5-5-0; Los Angeles 7-2-1

Season series --
These teams have already met twice this season, both Kings victories that took place in the first week of the season. The Kings and Canucks last faced off almost five months ago, when Vancouver lost 4-1 at Staples Center on Oct 15 in a game keyed by Dustin Brown’s two third-period goals.

Big Story --
While the Canucks have been perched atop the League’s standings for several weeks now, the Kings have battled from the playoff bubble into a three-way tie for the Conference's fourth seed alongside Chicago and Phoenix. Vancouver is enjoying a little breathing room in the final month of the regular season, looking to retain the top playoff seed and lock up home ice throughout the playoffs. But with Los Angeles sitting only three points ahead of 11th-place Anaheim, its road to the playoffs won't be nearly as easy.

Team Scope:

Canucks -- A 3-3-0 record on Vancouver’s just-completed six-game homestand didn't cause too much panic among invigorated Canucks fans hoping to celebrate the team's 40th anniversary with its first Stanley Cup win. But considering the team came into the stretch with a formidable 20-4-5 home record, the results were surprising.

The homestand ended Thursday night with a 3-0 loss to Nashville, one of countless Western Conference teams looking to make a late-season playoff push. A motivated Predators team got a 29-save shutout performance from Pekka Rinne and the eventual winner from rookie Blake Geoffrion, the first fourth-generation player to make the NHL.

The Canucks won't have much time to analyze the lackluster home stretch, as their game against the Kings opens a five-game road swing in which they will play five different teams in the thick of the Western-Conference playoff hunt.

Kings -- With a 3-1-0 record on their current six-game homestand, the Kings have rocketed up the conference standings. That late-season push was sparked in large part by their remarkable 6-1-3 record on a 10-game road swing that took up most of February.

Thursday night against Phoenix was the much-anticipated Kings debut of Dustin Penner, who came to Los Angeles at the trade deadline. But instead of a coming-out party for the newest Kings' forward, Los Angeles and Phoenix engaged in a defensive battle in which Jarret Stoll's power-play goal in the third period proved decisive. The 1-0 Kings win earned Jonathan Bernier his third career shutout.

"Bernier had a real good game," coach Terry Murray said. "But the guys in front of him played well. It came down to a game of special teams, power play, and the penalty kill."

Who's Hot --
Canucks forward Manny Malhotra has 2 goals in his last four games. … Kings forward Anze Kopitar, who was put on a line with Penner against Phoenix, has 8 points during his current five-game points streak.

Injury Report -- Kevin Bieksa (foot) and Chris Higgins (thumb) could return soon for the Canucks while Alex Edler (back) and Andrew Alberts (wrist) are on IR. … Other than Scott Parse (hip) on IR, the Kings are fielding a healthy lineup.

Stat Pack --
Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin have played in three consecutive games together without registering a single point. It's the longest such stretch for the twins since February 2010.

Puck Drop --
There could be plenty of subtext in the remaining Canucks-Kings matchups. Vancouver eliminated Los Angeles in the opening round of last year's playoffs, the Kings' first postseason appearance since 2002. They will also play again in Vancouver on March 31 in what could be a crucial game for both teams.

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