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Kings put win streak on line against surging Jets

by David Kalan

KINGS (35-22-6) at JETS (30-26-7)


Last 10: Los Angeles 6-4-0; Winnipeg 6-2-2

Season series: This is the second game this season between the Los Angeles Kings and the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets beat the Kings, 5-3, in the first game on Oct. 4, 2013 at MTS Centre.

Big story: Much has happened both in L.A. and in Winnipeg since the last time these two teams met during the season's opening weekend. While the Kings endured a lengthy slump that jeopardized their postseason hopes in January due largely to a sputtering offense, the Jets struggled for much of 2013-14, leading to the firing of coach Claude Noel. In recent weeks however, both teams have experienced significant turnarounds. The Kings have won five straight games, while the Jets, under new coach Paul Maurice, have climbed back into the thick of the Stanley Cup Playoff race.

In addition to winning five games in a row, the Kings made one of the biggest splashes at the NHL Trade Deadline on Wednesday, acquiring forward Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets in hopes of jump-starting their offense.

A game that six weeks ago might have been seen as between two of the League's most inconsistent teams is now between two of the hottest. With the Jets now on the fringes of one of the Western Conference's two wild-card spots, the Kings' visit to Winnipeg on Thursday carries significant postseason implications.

Team Scope:

Kings: Leading up to the deadline, Los Angeles' struggling offense -- the Kings are scoring just 2.32 goals per game this season -- was the source of much speculation. The Kings are hoping the acquisition of Gaborik, who has 14 points in 22 games this season in addition to three 40-goal seasons in his career, will address those concerns. Gaborik missed 23 games this season with a broken collarbone, but has a goal and an assist in four games since returning to the lineup.

"I kind of got [messed] up here in terms of injuries and stuff," Gaborik said on Wednesday. "But I hope that's behind me and I can focus down the road and help the team as best I can.

"Looking forward to this new challenge. It's been a hectic day but a new start, fresh start."

Thanks to their current winning streak, the Kings have a nine-point lead on the Phoenix Coyotes for third place in the Pacific, the last guaranteed playoff spot in the division.

Jets: When the Jets relieved Noel of his duties on Jan. 12, they sat in last place in the Central Division, 10 points out of the final wild-card spot in the West. Only the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames had worse records in the conference. In the 16 games since Maurice took over, Winnipeg has gone a stunning 11-3-2 and now sits just one point back of the Dallas Stars for the West's final wild-card spot.

Unlike the Kings, the Jets were relatively quiet on deadline day, though they were not without their own share of news. Early on Wednesday the team announced forward Mark Scheifele had suffered an MCL sprain in the team's 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday, something general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff admitted played a role in the Jets' deadline-day strategy.

"One day or one incident can certainly change how things go," Cheveldayoff said on Wednesday. "Certainly the Scheifele injury last night did throw a little bit of a wrench into some of the things we had been targeting and forced us to focus on maybe some other areas. In the long run it was something that affected how we approached today."

While the Jets made no major acquisitions on the trade market, they did agree to a new four-year, $10.5 million contract with defenseman Mark Stuart.

Who's hot: Kings forward Anze Kopitar has two goals and three assists in four games since returning from the Olympic break. … Jets forward Andrew Ladd has four goals in the past four games.

Injury report: The Kings have no injuries to report. … Scheifele (MCL sprain) will be re-evaluated in a few weeks, but TSN reported he is expected to miss 6-8 weeks. Jets forwards Chris Thorburn (upper body) and Eric Tangradi (undisclosed) are both questionable for Thursday. Forward James Wright (ankle sprain) is out.

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