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Kings start quick trip with visit to Chicago

by John Kreiser

KINGS (39-22-4) at BLACKHAWKS (43-17-5)

Last 10 -- Los Angeles 6-3-1; Chicago 6-3-1

Season series -- It's the third meeting between the teams this season, but the first time they've seen each other since the Kings won 2-1 in a shootout at home on Nov. 28. That was 19 days after the Hawks rolled to a 4-1 win at the United Center. The teams meet again in eight days on the West Coast.

Big story -- This is the finale of the Hawks' four-game homestand; they're 2-1-0 after blowing a 2-0 lead and losing 5-4 to Detroit on Sunday, a loss that kept them two points behind San Jose for the best record in the Western Conference. The Kings, who travel to Dallas on Friday before returning home to host Nashville on Sunday, are coming off perhaps their best performance of the season -- a 6-0 blitz of Columbus on Monday night in which they totally dominated.

Team Scope:

Kings -- It would be hard to play much better than the Kings did in Monday's rout of Columbus at the Staples Center. They scored four times in the first period to remove any doubt about the outcome, went 3-for-6 on the power play and limited the Blue Jackets to just 11 shots--the fewest by any team in a game this season.

The power play scored twice during a four-minute power play in the first period as the Kings avoided a third consecutive loss.

"If you want to have success on the power play, you have to shoot as often as you can," said forward Alexander Frolov, who had a goal and three assists.

Blackhawks -- The Hawks have all but locked up their first division title in 17 years, but there are still questions about whether their goaltending is good enough to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup. Neither veteran Cristobal Huet nor rookie Antti Niemi has been consistently good over long stretches, and both have been lit up since play resumed after the Olympic break, and they combined to allow five goals on 10 second-period shots in Sunday's 5-4 home loss to Detroit. Though Chicago has won five of its last seven, the Hawks have allowed 26 goals in that span.

Coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday that Niemi will get the start against the Kings.

"Antti started before the Olympic [break] and he got a little bit of the last game [against Detroit]," Quenneville said. "This gives him a chance to get back in the net. We'll see how he responds."

Who's hot -- Frolov is coming off a four-point night in the win over Columbus and has 4 goals and 9 assists in nine games. … Chicago's Patrick Kane is on an eight-game point streak during which he has 4 goals and 13 points. Hawks forward Andrew Ladd has 4 goals in his last two games, including his first NHL hat trick on Sunday.

Injury report -- Los Angeles forwards Justin Williams (leg/ankle) and Andrei Lokitonov (shoulder) are on injured reserve. The Hawks should have a full lineup.

Stat pack -- Huet is 4-4-1 with a 3.06 goals-against average in his last 11 games. Niemi, the backup most of the season, has also struggled of late, going 4-2-0 with a 3.51 GAA in seven contests.

Puck drop -- The goaltending scenario is the only thing nagging at the Hawks, who have shown they have the offensive and defensive talent to make a long playoff run. The Kings need the game as they battle with Phoenix and Colorado for the fourth spot in the West -- which would give them the extra home game in the first round of what would be their first playoff appearance since 2002.

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