The St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings take their battle for the Western Conference’s final wild-card playoff spot head to head when they face off Monday night at Staples Center.
The Blues hold a three-point lead with 15 games remaining for both teams.
Both teams enter the contest with modest winning streaks. The Blues (35-27-5) won their fourth straight game Saturday against the New York Islanders, 4-3, while the Kings captured their second straight with a come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals. The teams have split two games this season; St. Louis won 1-0 at home Oct. 29 and the Kings recorded a 5-1 home triumph Jan. 12.
“The win against the Islanders is good for our confidence,” said winger Vladimir Tarasenko. “If you look at the standings, the upcoming games in California are very important.”
Tarasenko, the Blues’ leading scorer with 31 goals, is heating up for the stretch drive. His two-goal performance against New York gives him four goals in his last three games after a five-game goal-less streak.
With a critical swing game to be played, Blues coach Mike Yeo hopes to have a full roster ready. Center Paul Stastny and defenseman Colton Parayko missed Saturday’s game, but Yeo is optimistic they will play.
“It’s a great challenge for us, it’s a very important part of our season. The Kings are putting a lot of emphasis on the game and if we want to win, we better too,” Yeo said. “These type of games are fun, and there’s a chance that Stastny and Parayko play.”
Sitting in ninth place in the West, Los Angeles (33-28-6) is already in playoff mode and every win is critical if they hope to vault over St. Louis and into a playoff position. The Washington victory was highlighted by the first NHL career goal by Adrian Kempe, a 20-year-old Swedish winger and the Kings’ 2015 first-round draft pick. With their offense floundering all season, coach Darryl Sutter hopes his youth and speed will invigorate a slumbering offense.
“Part of it is our style of play that’s Kings hockey,” said defenseman Alec Martinez. “We just have to stick with it for 60 minutes. It’s no secret that we find ourselves in this position a lot, tied games, one-goal games, our guys are used to being in a position like that. We had a big goal there by Adrian, and that was huge for us.”
Sutter tried to deemphasize the importance of the game, but it would help not to fall farther back in the points race with less than a month remaining in the season. With a healthy Jonathan Quick in goal, the Kings need to have a solid stretch of games against one of the most difficult remaining schedules. They play 10 of their last 15 games against current playoff qualifiers — the most of any Western Conference contender and six more than the Blues.
“All the teams that are close to you stand out,” Sutter told reporters Sunday. “I don’t think we can get too far ahead or too far back or any of that stuff. We usually have good games with them. We’ve played St. Louis lots over the years. We’re trying to be a good middle-of-the-pack team, which is what our realistic expectations were coming into the year.”