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Kings aim to bounce back against Blackhawks

by David Kalan

KINGS (25-10-4) at BLACKHAWKS (27-7-7)


Last 10: Los Angeles 7-3-0; Chicago 7-1-2

Season series: This is the second game this season between the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago won the first game, 3-1, on Dec. 15 at United Center.

Big story: As the Blackhawks and Kings each hit the midpoint of their 2013-14 season schedules, the teams are where everyone thought they would be: fighting for the top spot in the Western Conference.

While the Kings trail the Ducks in the Pacific Division despite one of the best records in the West, the Blackhawks are right with Anaheim atop the conference. As the West's top teams position themselves for home ice in the late rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring, every point in games between those teams will be pivotal. Two of those points will be on the line Monday night in a rematch of the 2013 Western Conference Final and a potential 2014 postseason preview.

Team Scope:

Kings: The Pacific has looked like the League's best division for most of the season and to some extent, that's left the Kings a victim of their schedule. Los Angeles is currently in third place despite winning seven of its past 10 games. That tumble is partly the result back-to-back losses in the Kings' past two games after starting December with nine wins in their first 10.

L.A.'s loss in its past game on Saturday night was particularly frustrating, as the Kings tied the Nashville Predators, 2-2 after pulling goalie Ben Scrivens in the final minute only to see the Predators win the game 10 seconds later on a goal by Mike Fisher that was allowed to stand after initially being reviewed.

"It's an extremely frustrating way to lose a hockey game," Scrivens said.

The Kings' visit to Chicago is their second stop on a four-game road trip. After facing the Blackhawks, the Kings will visit the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues.

Blackhawks: After a brief stretch when the Blackhawks endured a relative scoring drought by Chicago standards, the defending champs seem to have found their scoring touch. Chicago has lit the lamp 17 times in the past three games, including a 7-2 blitzing of the division rival Colorado Avalanche on Friday night, in which Patrick Sharp celebrated his birthday by scoring a hat trick.

On Saturday night the Blackhawks seemed to continue the offensive trend, but their defense didn't follow suit. Despite holding a two-goal lead at three separate points during the game Chicago fell to the St. Louis Blues in a shootout, 6-5.

"We had a couple looks in OT and the shootout, two chances as well," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "They really turned it up in the second period, and we didn't have the great response that we needed, but we're still in pretty good shape."

Their game against the Kings on Monday will be the Blackhawks' last of 2013. Chicago opens the New Year with a brief road trip to face the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils.

Who's hot: Kings forward Anze Kopitar has a goal and three assists in his past four games. ... Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith has six assists in his past three games.

Injury report: Each team will be without its starting goalie from last season's playoff series; Jonathan Quick (strained groin) of the Kings and Chicago's Corey Crawford (lower-body injury) remain out.

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