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Kings-Canucks Preview

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GAME: Los Angeles Kings (38-28-5) at Vancouver Canucks (38-28-6).

TIME: Monday, 10 p.m. EST.

The Vancouver Canucks host the Los Angeles Kings in a pivotal matchup in the Western Conference playoff chase.

The Canucks, Kings, Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks are locked in a tight race for the final two playoff spots in the West.

Vancouver is coming off three consecutive games against Edmonton. The Canucks won the first two meetings - 4-1 at Edmonton last Tuesday and 4-3 in a shootout on Thursday - but dropped Saturday's contest 3-2 and allowed the Oilers to pull back even with them in the standings.

"It's unfortunate, we could have put them behind us a little bit," said Vancouver's Markus Naslund, who had two assists in the loss. "We played a strong game. We just didn't get the breaks when we needed them."

Naslund has struggled in the second half of the season, with only 15 points in his last 30 games. He had 22 goals and 24 assists in his first 41 contests.

A return to Naslund's early-season form would help the Canucks as they hope to qualify for the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. Naslund has played well against the Kings in recent meetings, with three goals and two assists in the last three games against Los Angeles.

The Kings won coach John Torchetti's debut on Saturday, 6-4 over the Nashville Predators. Torchetti replaced Andy Murray, who was fired on Tuesday, after the team fell from second to ninth-place in the conference.

"I was just proud of the whole team," said Torchetti, who closed out the 2003-04 season as the interim coach of the Florida Panthers. "That's a team win if you've ever seen one. Everyone competed, and we got some great goals. I thought we were very hungry taking the puck to the net."

Alexander Frolov scored two goals Saturday in his return after missing 10 games with a partially separated shoulder he suffered playing for Russia in the Olympics.

The left wing could become a key part of the Kings' playoff push with 11 games left. He is having his most productive season with 52 points in 58 games, including 21 goals.

STANDINGS: Kings - 81 points, 4th place, 18 PB, Pacific Division. Canucks - 82 points, 4th place, 4 PB, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Kings - Mark Parrish, 26 goals; Lubomir Visnovsky, 47 assists and 64 points; Sean Avery, 240 PIM. Canucks - Naslund, 30 goals; Henrik Sedin, 51 assists; Naslund and Sedin, 69 points; Jarkko Ruutu, 120 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 25): Kings - Power play: 15.0 percent (71 for 474), 27th in NHL. Penalty killing: 78.7 percent (337 for 428), 26th. Canucks - Power play: 17.7 percent (83 for 468), 17th. Penalty killing: 82.2 percent (375 for 456), 16th.

GOALTENDERS: Kings - Mathieu Garon (29-20-3, 2 SO, 3.15 GAA); Jason LaBarbera (9-8-2, 0, 3.22). Canucks - Alex Auld (30-22-4, 0, 2.92); Mika Noronen (1-3-0, 0, 4.16).

SEASON SERIES: Kings, 2-0.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 19; Kings, 4-3 (SO). At Vancouver, British Columbia, Frolov scored the only goal in the shootout as the Canucks missed all three of their attempts

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Kings - 15-16-4 on the road; Canucks - 21-9-4 at home.

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