Updated: February 9, 2010, 3:38 PM ET

Kings' playoff hopes, East's dismal playoff 'race'

Burnside By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com
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1. Will the Kings hold on?

Here's a sense of just how rare playoff successes have been for the Los Angeles Kings.

They enter the week in fourth place in the Western Conference. If they were able to hold onto that fourth seed (San Jose is running away with the Pacific Division lead) and the home-ice advantage that comes with it, it would mark the first time the Kings had home-ice advantage in a playoff series since 1992.

Now, there's a lot of hockey to be played between now and the final day of the regular season on April 11, and there is the matter of the Phoenix Coyotes, with whom the Kings were tied in points to start the week.

For you history buffs, the 1992 series marked the third straight season Wayne Gretzky and the Kings were eliminated by the Great One's old teammates from Edmonton. A little trivia: One player from the 1991-92 team who remains active in the NHL is San Jose captain Rob Blake.

2. More Pens-Caps magic

Here are a couple of thoughts after watching this season's second installment of the Battle of the Titans on Sunday, otherwise known as the rivalry between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Never mind the external issues (locals called the snowstorm that buried the Washington, D.C., area "Snowmageddon," and it forced the Pens into a difficult five-hour bus trip to get there before game time at noon ET); this game reinforced that whenever Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin meet, something magical happens.

On Sunday, it was so. Ovechkin scored a hat trick and set up the overtime winner to help the Caps rebound from a 4-1 deficit en route to a 5-4 victory that extended Washington's winning streak to 14 games.

Yes, Alexander Semin sold the high-sticking penalty by Brooks Orpik that set up the winning goal, but what theater. And with Crosby (two goals Sunday) and Ovechkin seemingly bound to meet at some point during the Olympic tournament, this was a grand set-up piece. And let's be honest, is there a hockey fan anywhere who isn't salivating at a potential rematch between these two teams come playoff time?

As for those external weather issues, there was some discussion about the propriety of the game being played (the NBA game in Washington was canceled the night before), but a couple of things to consider beyond the fact that this was a nationally televised game.

First, the NHL is loath to reschedule games, as it ticks off fans who have paid handsomely for tickets and generally creates significant logistical headaches for both teams. Secondly, teams regularly get into town late thanks to flight delays and weather issues throughout the season, so it's not that unusual. Yes, the mode of transport -- having to take a five-hour bus ride from Newark, N.J., because it was the best the Pens could do after their game in Montreal on Saturday afternoon -- was unusual.

But officials with the NHL Players' Association told ESPN.com that union counsel, along with Southeast Division rep Steve Webb, had been in contact with Pens player rep Matt Cooke to ensure that the biggest issue -- safe travel -- was being monitored, and they ultimately deemed the plan safe. Ideal? Hardly, but the product didn't seem to suffer one iota.

3. The East? We call it junk

How bad is the Eastern Conference? Well, the Boston Bruins won Sunday for the first time in 11 starts with a 3-0 decision over Montreal and began the week tied for eighth with Philadelphia and the New York Rangers. Philly technically owns the final playoff spot because it has more wins and has played fewer games, but all three teams have 59 points. Imagine that.

The last time the Bruins won a game before Sunday was Jan. 14 … and they're tied for the last playoff spot. Some call it parity; we call it junk. But that's just us. Not that the Bruins are the only ones. Philadelphia was so bad earlier this season that it fired coach John Stevens, but it is still in the driver's seat to be a playoff team.

Atlanta and the Rangers have both disappeared for long stretches, and both have their sights set on a postseason berth. Ditto for Florida and the New York Islanders. In fact, eight teams currently residing between sixth and 13th are separated by just eight points. In theory, whichever teams end up with the East's top three seeds should roll through the bottom three seeds in the conference. But the great thing about the playoffs is that you know that's not necessarily going to happen.

4. Second chance at Olympics

We had a chance to catch up with Ryan Whitney, one of two players added to the U.S. Olympic team late last week after injuries scuttled the dreams of defensemen Mike Komisarek and Paul Martin. Talk about a bittersweet call. Whitney ostensibly replaces Martin, the smart puck-moving defenseman from New Jersey who graciously bowed out of the mix after his broken forearm didn't respond on schedule. Whitney said he didn't know Martin well before August's orientation camp but came instantly to like and respect the Minnesota native.

"That's not really the way you want to go [to the Games]," Whitney said.

Whitney, dealt to Anaheim last season by Pittsburgh after being part of the Penguins' run to the 2008 Cup finals, admitted that he was disappointed when he found out he wasn't initially named to the 23-man roster on New Year's Day in Boston. "I was pretty upset. I'm not going to lie to you," Whitney said.

But at the time, GM Brian Burke told Whitney that this wasn't the end for him and that he needed to keep playing well. It was Burke who called back late last week to tell Whitney he'd be headed to Vancouver.

One of the perks for Whitney will be a chance to reunite with old friends Ryan Malone and Brooks Orpik. The three were part of a clutch of homegrown talent that helped propel the Penguins to prominence over the past couple of seasons. Malone went on to sign a long-term deal with Tampa after the 2008 season, Whitney is now in Anaheim, and Orpik remains with the Penguins.

Whitney said the three stay in touch, but the chance to share a dressing room once more is going to be a treat for the old friends.

"That's been in my mind. It's really special," Whitney said. "That's something I'm really looking forward to."

5. Second chance at Olympics, Part II

The other addition to the U.S. squad is Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason, and there's more than a little symmetry with his addition. He came to Carolina in a much-heralded trade in September 2006 for another member of the U.S. Olympic team, defenseman Jack Johnson.

While Carolina GM Jim Rutherford came under some criticism for the deal (Johnson was the third overall pick in the 2005 draft), Gleason has become a key part of a Hurricanes franchise that reached last season's Eastern Conference finals. Playing mostly against other teams' top offensive units, Gleason has developed a reputation for solid play and a surprising amount of grit, something that made him attractive to Burke.

It's not much of a stretch, given his style of play, to imagine Gleason might even line up alongside Johnson, a more daring, offensive player, in Vancouver just to make the circle complete.

Although he was naturally disappointed not to be named to the team initially, Gleason's parents had no doubt how things would turn out. They bought tickets to the Olympics after Gleason was invited to the U.S. orientation camp and refused to return their tickets after he didn't make the initial roster. Gleason called his parents as soon as he found out he'd been added to the team.

"They were happier than heck," Gleason said. "They kind of thought it was going to happen."

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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