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Kings, Jackets fighting to return to top 8

by Tal Pinchevsky
KINGS (31-22-3) at BLUE JACKETS (28-23-5)

TV -- FS-West (HD), FS-Ohio 

Last 10 -- Los Angeles 7-1-2; Columbus 7-3-0

Season series -- This is the third of four meetings between two improving teams fighting for a Western Conference playoff spot. In their last meeting on Jan. 8, a third-period three-goal lead barely held up for the Kings in a 6-4 win in which Jarret Stoll scored twice and Jack Johnson had 3 assists. The Jackets won their other meeting 5-3 in L.A. on Nov. 17.

Big story -- With the Western Conference playoff race destined to come down to the wire, few teams are playing with more urgency than the Kings and Blue Jackets. Despite being outside the playoff bubble to start the week, Los Angeles has points in nine straight games (7-0-2), while Columbus has won five of six. As a result, the Kings and Jackets now stand just one and five points out of eighth place, respectively, while possessing games in hand on eighth-place Calgary.

Team Scope:

Kings --
Following a disastrous 2-10-0 run from Dec. 29 to Jan. 20, the Kings have rocketed back into the postseason conversation. Their February record improved to 4-0-2 following a 1-0 win in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Against the Flyers, Drew Doughty's goal 17 seconds into the second period was all the Kings would need as Jonathan Quick made 40 saves for his sixth shutout of the season.

"After the All-Star break, we knew we had to get points," forward Anze Kopitar said. "That's just the bottom line. The next game, in Columbus, is not going to be any less important than this one tonight. We just wanted to get two points."

Blue Jackets -- With points at a premium, the Jackets are fighting to regain playoff position. Since a season-worst five straight regulation losses to start January, Columbus has gone 8-3-2.

The Jackets' hot recent play continued with a 2-1 win in Dallas on Sunday that established a team record with five straight road wins. Against the Stars, Rick Nash's second-period goal held up, thanks in large part to 29 saves by goalie Steve Mason. Perhaps most impressive in the win was the team's offense, which fired 39 shots just four days after collecting a season-high 44 shots in a 3-2 loss to San Jose.

"It's our compete level," coach Scott Arniel said. "We're a real team. If we're not going with everybody, we don't have success. Our wins have come when everybody shows up for 60 minutes."

Who's hot -- Nash has 5 points in his last four games, while teammate Jakub Voracek has 4 points in his last four games. … Kings forward Wayne Simmonds has 3 points in his last two games and Ryan Smyth has 3 points in his last four games.

Injury report -- Scott Parse (lower body) and Marco Sturm (hip) are on IR for the Kings. … Columbus defenseman Rostislav Klesla (knee) and forward Derek Dorsett (neck) are out indefinitely while alternate captain Ethan Moreau could potentially return from a rib injury.

Stat pack -- While the Jackets have been firing shots at an impressive clip lately, shot differential hasn't translated into wins the way many might expect. Columbus has gone 5-7-0 this season when they have outshot their opponent by 10 or more. However, they are 8-1-0 when they have been outshot by double digits.

Puck drop -- Columbus has every right to feel confident should this game go past 60 minutes. Against the Kings, the Jackets have won four of their six games that have gone to extra time.
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