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Kings need another fast finish to make playoffs

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Recent history shows that the Los Angeles Kings can bank on a strong finish to ramp into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They finished the 2011-12 season with a 9-2-3 run to squeak in and went on to win their first Cup. Last season they went 15-6-2 after the Sochi Olympics en route to their second Cup.

But Kings captain Dustin Brown acknowledged that history works against them as they regroup for the post-All Star break run to the finish, starting Wednesday against the Chicago Blackhawks at Staples Center (NBCSN, SN, SN1, 10:30 p.m. ET).

"The bigger challenge is [that] in 2012 we were the L.A. Kings who hadn't won anything," Brown said. "Now it makes it harder. Everyone's ready for you. Everyone knows the position we're in and I'm sure there's a lot of teams that would love to take points from us and prevent us from doing what we want to do."

The Kings (52 points) return to action out of a playoff spot. Coach Darryl Sutter always points to the 100-point threshold for making the postseason; to reach that mark the Kings would have to win two out of three the rest of the way.

The Kings play 20 of the remaining 35 games on the road, where they are 5-9-6. The only teams with fewer road wins are the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres.

"It's big," Jeff Carter said of their upcoming stretch. "We're not in the position we'd like to be, and we're running out of games."

Several factors have contributed to the Kings' slide, which includes a 2-4-5 finish before the break. The most glaring is their record away from Staples Center, which contrasts their 23-14-4 road record last season.

"If it doesn't [anger you] as a player, you shouldn't be playing at this level," Brown said. "But as individuals, as teams, as coaches, you pore over video and stats and this and that. We need to figure it out. Again, it's something we're going to have to figure out very quickly here because of the situation and how many road games we have.

"But ... historically, our team, when our backs are against the wall, we dig down and find a way. It's one of those situations. It's going to be an important 30-or-so games left."

The other major factor is that the Kings' defense has clearly been hit by the free-agent departure of Willie Mitchell and the indefinite suspension of Slava Voynov. Jeff Schultz and Jamie McBain have filled in, but the absence of Mitchell and Voynov has placed more weight on their core defensemen, notably Drew Doughty, who had been forced into unrealistic ice time, and goalie Jonathan Quick.

Entering Wednesday, the Kings have been shorthanded 153 times this season; 24 more than Chicago. The Kings' penalty kill has allowed 34 goals, tied for the fourth-most in the NHL.

The penalty kill should get a boost with the return of Robyn Regehr, one of the Kings' key penalty-killers and veteran leader whose absence was noticeable. Offensively, the Kings have prided themselves on grinding out close games, but they have an NHL-worst five wins in one-goal games and are 5-6-12 in that category. That includes a 1-7 record in shootouts; they are 2-for-28 and scoreless on their past 22 shootout attempts.

With left wing Tanner Pearson (broken leg) expected to miss the rest of the regular season, Sutter pointed to Brown, Marian Gaborik and Dwight King as players who need to pick up the slack.

Sutter said it doesn't matter who plays with whom and used the Anaheim Ducks as an example.

"You want a good explanation of that?" Sutter said. "Just look at the team that's leading the division and has been leading the League, of and on, for the most part, when those two players are healthy. [Anze Kopitar] has to be our [Ryan] Getzlaf and [Gaborik] has to be our [Corey] Perry."

The Kings will have to first match up against Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, among others, in the second game between Los Angeles and Chicago since the Kings eliminated the Blackhawks in a memorable Western Conference Final.

"We know every time that we face them we're in for a tough night," Carter said. "You look at other teams around the League, they're one of the teams we try to match up against. I think Darryl says, ‘It usually runs through Chicago.'"

Will this be the beginning of another Kings run? Or will their Cup mettle finally crack this spring?

The Kings will get reminded of their Cup triumph last season when they visit the White House next week. They were going to visit Parliament Hill on their Ottawa visit earlier this season but it didn't pan out.

"That's too bad," Regehr said. "We'll just have to try to set it up again."

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