Kings (36-25 -12, 84 points) vs. St. Louis Blues (46-20-8, 100 points) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Another must-win – Forget about the five-game winning streak, the four straight games with a goal by Anze Kopitar or the two straight by Dustin Penner, the Kings need to treat this like it’s another Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. They haven’t accomplished anything if they don’t continue to win and keep pace with the other five teams making a mad scramble for the final three playoff spots. The Blues just happen to own the best record in the NHL, so there’s no reason not to be up for this game.
2. Super Thursday – Just like Tuesday, the six teams in the hunt for the final three playoff spots in the West are on the docket Thursday. Dallas, the Pacific Division leader who sits one point ahead of the Kings, hosts the Vancouver Canucks. That match up should be wrapping up right about the first intermission of the Kings game. The seventh-place Avs, also one point ahead of the Kings, travel to ninth-Phoenix, which has the same number of points as L.A. but is behind on the tiebreaker because it has played one more game. San Jose and Calgary, two points back of the Kings, also have games.
3. Good neighbor – The Ducks either did the Kings another huge favor Wednesday night by pulling the carpet from under the Blues in a 4-3 victory, or performed the opposite and lit a fire under their feet by coming back from three one-goal deficits to win. The Ducks pushed San Jose all over the HP Arena on Monday, and that seemed to carry over to the next night at Staples Center, when the Kings pretty much had their way with the heavy-legged Sharks in the 5-2 victory. Of course, no pride-and-true Kings fans will ever thank the Ducks for anything, but if the Blues come out looking like they’re skating in sand, a small thank you could be in order.
4. Recent history – About the only time Staples Center has been livelier than during its current home stand was when the Kings beat St. Louis, 5-0, in the home opener five months ago, chasing starting goalie Jaroslav Halak, who was 6-0 in his career against L.A. heading into the game. The Kings have otherwise struggled against the Blues, losing five of the other six games dating back to last season. If the Kings stick to their up-tempo, physical style of play, they should be able to force turnovers from the red line in and catch the Blues on the counterattack.
5. Who’s on first? – St. Louis is one of the top teams in the league when it scores first, while the Kings are one of the worse when they fall behind, 1-0. The Blues are 31-8-2 when they score the initial goal, the fourth-best winning percentage in the NHL in that department. The Kings, on the other hand, are 7-20-6 when allowing the first goal, the second-worst winning percentage in the league. It’s safe to say that whoever scores first will have the advantage.