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Kings try to keep rolling as they visit Columbus

by Eric Goodman

KINGS (30-19-3) AT BLUE JACKETS (21-25-9)

Last 10 -- Los Angeles 6-4-0; Columbus 5-5-0

Season series -- This is the third of four regular-season meetings between the Kings and Blue Jackets. The teams have split the first two meetings, with each club winning at home.

Big story -- The Kings are trying to extend two winning streaks -- they've won three in a row overall and four consecutive games on the road. Columbus still resides near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, but is desperate to claw its way back into playoff contention after a rough month of December in which the Jackets only managed two wins. The Jackets helped themselves by beating Nashville 3-2 at home on Tuesday.

Team Scope:

Kings -- This season has marked a resurgence for Los Angeles. Although the Kings have not made the playoffs since 2001-02, they appear poised to finally make a return to the postseason as they currently sit solidly in sixth place in the tightly packed Western Conference standings.

The club was happy with its 5-3 win at Toronto on Tuesday, which marked the second straight successful showing on its current five-game road trip.

"Obviously it's a huge two points for us," captain Dustin Brown said. "We got out of the first. We didn't play a great period, but it was 1-1. It was one of those things where these two points are bigger than we've had at any other point of the year."

Blue Jackets -- After a dismal December, the Jackets have an opportunity to finish slightly over .500 for January if they can beat the Kings at home and win at St. Louis on Saturday. However, if they hope to make it back into the playoff race, they will definitely need to string together a substantial winning streak; the Jackets' 51 points are good for only 14th place in the West.

They'll try to build on Tuesday's win over the Predators, a team that has dominated them in the past four seasons. It wasn't easy -- the Jackets led 3-0 midway through the third period and had to hang on. Coach Ken Hitchcock was fully aware that it was sophomore goalie Steve Mason that sealed the game with some spectacular saves late in the third period.

"Our goalie was the best player on the ice and we needed him today," Hitchcock said. "He can win games, like tonight, by himself."

Who's hot -- Defenseman Drew Doughty had a goal and an assist in the Kings' win at Toronto and is currently third among Western Conference defenseman with 40 points. Left wing Kristian Huselius has nine points (2 goals, 7 assists) in his last six games for Columbus.

Injury report -- The Kings will be missing forwards Andrei Loktionov (shoulder) and Justin Williams (ankle) and defenseman Davis Drewiske (shoulder). For Columbus, Defenseman Rostislav Klesla (groin) is on injured reserve, while defenseman Marc Methot (flu-like symptoms) remains listed as day-to-day.

Stat pack -- Los Angeles is second in the West with an average of 27.8 shots against per game. Columbus has struggled with protecting early leads this season; the Jackets are last in the NHL with only a .438 winning percentage when leading after the first period.

Puck drop -- Kings coach Terry Murray is very much aware that his team can't afford any stumbles as it tries to break its playoff drought.

"It's not going to change," Murray said of the tight Western Conference race. "It's going to stay close. Unless we get a big push on, and unless you're able to go 10 or 12 games in a row here, as a team, you're not going to pull away. It's going to be interesting and exciting and fun to be a part of it, right down to the end."

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