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Western powers meet as Blackhawks host Kings

by Mike Battaglino

KINGS (22-7-4) at BLACKHAWKS (23-7-5)


Last 10: Los Angeles 7-1-2; Chicago 6-3-1

Season series: This is the first of three games, with the next in a day past two weeks. The Chicago Blackhawks won two of three during the 2012-13 regular season before ending the Los Angeles Kings' bid to repeat as Stanley Cup champions with a five-game victory in the 2013 Western Conference Final.

"Obviously they're a big rival and we haven't played them well, not just last year but over the years, so it's about time we start," Kings forward Jarret Stoll said.

Big story: Two of the top teams in the Western Conference each had to travel after playing Saturday. Los Angeles defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-2 in the afternoon before Chicago lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-3 at night.

Asked for keys to facing the Blackhawks, Kings coach Darryl Sutter said, "Get there on time. Beat the weather. Get through customs."

Team Scope:

Kings: Sutter likes to ride the hot goalie, and no one is hotter than rookie Martin Jones, but this would be Jones' second back-to-back set in six days. Ben Scrivens, who made 10 straight starts after Jonathan Quick was sidelined by a groin injury Nov. 12, has not played since Dec. 2.

Jones is 5-0-0 with an 0.99 goals-against average and .967 save percentage since making his NHL debut Dec. 3. He has allowed three goals in the past 262:43 (13 periods plus).

"[My teammates have] played so strong defensively; they're so disciplined in the way they play with their structure," Jones said, according to The Sports Xchange. "For whoever is in net, they do a great job of battling in front, blocking shots ... it helps us out a lot."

The Kings have not allowed a first-period goal in 18 games, leading to them not allowing more than two goals in that 13-1-4 stretch.

"We're trying to win the first period. It's not about goals against," Sutter said. "You're trying to win first periods. That's the most important part."

Blackhawks: Goalie Antti Raanta allowed two goals in each of his first seven NHL appearances before giving up five Saturday. Like Jones, he played back-to-back, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Kent Simpson made his NHL debut to start the third period, perhaps enabling Raanta to get back in net Sunday. The Blackhawks traded for Edmonton Oilers backup Jason LaBarbera on Saturday.

The loss to the Maple Leafs, the Blackhawks' first in a decade, ended a three-game overall winning streak in which Chicago scored 19 goals.

"We were probably looking for an easy game, thinking we were going to score six goals and that's not going to happen in this league," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We had a lot of fortunate goals over that stretch and I think we let our guard down tonight and got what we deserved."

Who's hot: The Kings line of Jeff Carter, Dwight King and Anze Kopitar combined for four goals and four assists against Ottawa. Stoll has six points in his past six games. Los Angeles has killed 56 of its past 60 penalties (93.3 percent). … Patrick Kane had two of Chicago's three goals in Toronto, giving him four goals and 10 points in the Blackhawks' past four games.

Injury report: Kings defenseman Colin Fraser (concussion protocol) is out. Quick has skated two days in a row. … Blackhawks goalies Corey Crawford (lower body), Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body) and forward Bryan Bickell (knee) are out. Bickell could return this coming Friday.

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