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Kings-Blues Preview

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Chris Mason's outstanding play has helped keep St. Louis in the playoff hunt. He's done little, however, to stop the Blues' defensive struggles against the Los Angeles Kings.

Opening a key three-game homestand, the Blues will likely give Mason his 24th straight start as they try to avoid being swept in their season series with the stumbling Kings on Tuesday night.

St. Louis (33-30-9) is two points behind eighth-place Nashville in the Western Conference, hoping Mason can continue his strong play over the team's last 10 games - four at the Scottrade Center. Mason is 16-7-5 with a 2.08 goals-against average in 26 games after an 0-8-1 skid that lasted into mid-January.

Mason, though, struggled in his only start against the Kings (30-32-10) this season, stopping 20 of 24 shots and getting pulled after two periods in a 6-2 loss Dec. 11. Los Angeles has outscored St. Louis 15-5 in winning all three matchups this season.

In the 42-year history of this series, the only season in which the Kings have won every meeting came in 2005-06.

However, a faltering offense is largely to blame for their dwindling playoff hopes. Los Angeles is 2-8-1 in road games after winning seven of its previous eight, averaging 1.6 goals per game during the slump.

The Kings, who trail the Predators by seven points with 10 games left, are halfway through a six-game road trip following 4-1 losses at Pittsburgh and Chicago on Friday and Sunday, respectively.

St. Louis, meanwhile, totaled one goal through the first two stops of a three-game trip before beating Calgary 3-2 on Friday night.

The Blues ended their scoring slump even though veteran winger Keith Tkachuk missed the game due to a wrist injury. St. Louis is hoping Tkachuk, who has 21 goals and 18 assists, will be back on the ice Tuesday.

Andy McDonald and Jay McClement scored in a 51-second span midway through the third period Friday after the Blues trailed by one through two periods.

"That's how we've been getting our wins all year," said Mason, who made 33 saves. "We've had to fight for every point."

St. Louis has to take advantage of this stretch at home, where it is 10-4-3 in 2009. The Blues also host Vancouver and Columbus this week before playing six of their final seven games on the road.

The Kings are 1-4-1 overall after winning their previous three, hurting their chances of making the postseason for the first time since 2002.

"It's a big mountain in front of us, we know that," Los Angeles coach Terry Murray told the team's official Web site. "We have to have 20 guys playing very good and then you go from there. It's one game at a time."

The Kings are in desperate need of a boost on offense. Their only goal Sunday was scored by defenseman Drew Doughty, who has two goals and two assists in his last three games after posting three points - all assists - in his previous 15.

Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar, who leads the team with 61 points (25 goals, 36 assists), has been held off the scoresheet in three of his last five games and has just two points in that span. He has five goals and 15 assists in 11 games against the Blues.

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