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Red-hot Blue Jackets set to host Kings

by David Kalan

KINGS (29-15-6) AT BLUE JACKETS (24-20-4)


Last 10: Los Angeles 4-4-2; Columbus 7-3-0

Season series: This is the first of two games this season between the Los Angeles Kings and the Columbus Blue Jackets. They will play against each other again in Los Angeles on Feb. 6.

Big story: It's hard to have a tougher five-game road trip than Los Angeles is enduring now. The Kings have not only flown across the country, but have also faced a veritable murderer's row of the St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins with the League-leading Anaheim Ducks still to come.

Wedged in the middle of that is a visit to Columbus on Tuesday, which might have seemed like a nice break earlier this season, but the Blue Jackets are suddenly hot. Columbus has won six straight games and is now in the thick of the chase for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which means L.A. will have one more hurdle to jump before it heads back to the West Coast.

Team Scope:

Kings: The Kings suffered a frustrating 3-2 loss in Boston on Monday afternoon. L.A. rallied from a two-goal deficit against the Bruins to tie the game in the third period only to see Boston's Brad Marchand score the game-winner 18 seconds later.

Los Angeles currently sits in third place in the Pacific Division a full 15 points behind the first-place Ducks. That gap may seem more intimidating than it actually is, though. The Kings are still comfortably in position to make the postseason, and they'll have an opportunity to close in when they wrap up their road trip later this week with a home-and-home series against Anaheim.

The second of those games will almost certainly draw the most attention; the Kings will be hosting the Ducks at Dodger Stadium as part of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series on Saturday.

Before all of that happens, however, the Kings will have to deal with Columbus on Tuesday night before finally flying back to California. The Blue Jackets are already among the League's hottest teams, but L.A. will also have the added challenge of playing the second half of a back-to-back.

"It's one of those things that it doesn't really matter what they're going to bring," Kings forward Anze Kopitar told LA Kings Insider regarding the Blue Jackets. "What matters is what we're going to bring and we're going to have to be sharp for sure. They have a good team. They have lots of skill and they have obviously a good goalie. So we're going to have to be sharp and on our game."

Blue Jackets: After facing the Kings on Tuesday, Columbus' game Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers will mark the 1,000th regular season game in franchise history. The Blue Jackets, on their biggest winning streak of the season, are approaching the milestone in style. A 4-3 shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night stretched Columbus' run to six games, but the current streak hasn't merely come against cellar dwellers.

Among the Jackets' six consecutive wins are victories against the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals, while half of the six came on the road. Overall, Columbus has one loss in 2014, a road defeat against St. Louis. Against Buffalo on Saturday, the Jackets rallied from two one-goal deficits and overcame a game-tying score by Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers with 24.9 seconds remaining to pick up the win in a shootout.

"Every 60 minutes isn't going to be perfect, [but] the closer we can try and strive to get there, the better off we're going to be," Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky said afterward. "Six in row in the NHL is not easy to do."

As a result of their recent winning streak, the once-moribund Blue Jackets are now in a tie with Detroit for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Who's hot: Kings forward Jeff Carter has scored in each of the past three games. ... Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski has a goal and four assists in the past four games.

Injury report: Kings defenseman Matt Greene (concussion) is out indefinitely. … Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin (illness) is questionable, while forwards Marian Gaborik (broken collarbone), Blake Comeau (sprained MCL), Jack Skille (abdominal injury) and Jared Boll (bruised foot) are all on injured reserve.

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