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GAME: Los Angeles Kings (28-24-16-7) at Vancouver Canucks (37-24-10-5).

TIME: Wednesday, 10 p.m. EST.

The Los Angeles Kings and the Vancouver Canucks are struggling at the worst possible time.

That could prove far more costly for Los Angeles.

Losers of a season-high four straight, the Kings continue their pursuit of a playoff spot when they open a four-game road trip against the Canucks, who could again be without starting goalie Dan Cloutier.

Four consecutive losses has dropped the Kings into 10th place in the Western Conference - three points behind surging Edmonton for the eighth and final playoff berth. Los Angeles, also trailing ninth-place St. Louis, has one game in hand on the Oilers.

The Kings also face Edmonton, Calgary and Colorado on this trip.

"We've still got seven games left. And if we keep doing the things we're doing, we'll turn it around," Kings left wing Luc Robitaille said. "It's going to be an interesting trip for us. We know it's do or die."

A costly 2-1 loss to the visiting Oilers on Monday put a damper on a record-setting achievement by Robitaille, who passed Johnny Bucyk as the highest-scoring left wing in NHL history with his 1,370th career point.

"It's certainly something I'll cherish one day," Robitaille said. "But it's just hard now when we're battling so hard to make the playoffs. It's never much fun to set a record when you lose."

Cristobal Huet made his second straight start for the Kings after Roman Cechmanek played poorly in a 5-3 loss to San Jose on Thursday. Huet has allowed nine goals while losing three straight starts.

The Canucks would need a complete collapse to miss the playoffs, but a season-high five-game winless streak (0-3-1-1) has prevented them from making up ground on Northwest Division-leading Colorado.

With just one win in eight games (1-4-2-1), Vancouver has dropped behind red-hot Dallas into fifth place in the West. The top four seeds are guaranteed home-ice in the opening round of the playoffs.

Unable to protect a two-goal lead in the third period against the worst team in the conference, the Canucks lost 5-4 to visiting Columbus on Sunday.

Johan Hedberg allowed five goals on 23 shots in his second straight start in place of Cloutier, sidelined with a hip flexor. Hedberg has surrendered eight goals in 4{ periods in those two games.

Cloutier took part in shooting drills Monday, but it is unknown whether he will be healthy enough to start Wednesday.

With Hedberg struggling, Canucks coach Marc Crawford could start third-string goalie Alex Auld against Los Angeles.

"It's nothing I'm too worried about," Hedberg said. "Everything else is out of my control so I won't even worry about it. I'm going to do what I can do, work hard and get my game together."

STANDINGS (through March 22): Kings - 79 points, 3rd place, 13 PB, Pacific Division. Canucks - 89 points, 2nd place, 4 PB, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Kings - Alexander Frolov, 24 goals; Robitaille and Jozef Stumpel, 29 assists; Robitaille, 51 points; Sean Avery, 240 PIM. Canucks - Markus Naslund, 32 goals, 46 assists and 78 points; Wade Brookbank, 133 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 22): Kings - Power play: 14.3 percent (48 for 335), 26th in NHL. Penalty killing: 80.9 percent (254 for 314), 26th. Canucks - Power play: 15.2 percent (55 for 361), 20th. Penalty killing: 85.6 percent (292 for 341), 3rd.

GOALTENDERS: Kings - Cechmanek (18-17-6, 5 SO, 2.49 GAA); Huet (10-13-10, 3, 2.44). Canucks - Hedberg (8-6-2, 2, 2.51); Auld (2-2-2, 2.06).

SEASON SERIES: Canucks, 2-0-1.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 8; Canucks, 3-1. At Los Angeles, Magnus Arvedson scored twice and Cloutier stopped 16 shots as the Kings' winless streak reached 10.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Kings - 13-10-7-6 on the road; Canucks - 17-13-7-0 at home.

Associated Press
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