LOS ANGELES — The Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings face off Thursday at Staples Center in a pivotal game for both team’s playoff prospects.
The Bruins (30-24-6) took their first loss in five games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy on Wednesday, dropping a 5-3 decision to the Anaheim Ducks.
Boston remains one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in Atlantic Division, and the Bruins are tied with the Florida Panthers and the New York Islanders for the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot. However, the Maple Leafs, Panthers and Islanders each have a game in hand on Boston.
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The Bruins extended their recent lack of success playing in California, registering a ninth loss in their past 11 games contested in the Golden State.
With the Bruins set to play for a second night in a row, they are scheduled to turn to backup goaltender Anton Khudobin to face the Kings. Finding a reliable goaltender to spell starter Tuukka Rask has been one of Boston’s shortcomings, as Khudobin has a 2-5-1 record, a 3.05 goals-against average and an .888 save percentage in nine games.
Boston will complete its 11th set of back-to-back games, and the Bruins are 2-6-2 in the second game thus far.
Cassidy knows regardless of who is between the pipes, his team will need a far better collective effort than the one against Anaheim. The Bruins responded well after he replaced Claude Julien but Tuesday fell into the same bad habits that were presented prior to his promotion from assistant coach.
“Good teams don’t beat themselves, and we definitely had a little bit of that tonight,” Cassidy said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to defend the front of the net better than we did tonight.”
The Bruins’ recent success has been keyed by getting production throughout the lineup, raising the team to 12th in the league in goals scored.
“We need to keep our confidence up, we’ve been playing very well lately,” Boston center Riley Nash said. “If you can have four lines and six defenseman rolling, you wear a lot of teams down”.
The Kings (29-26-4) broke a three game losing streak Tuesday with an unimpressive 2-1 road win over the NHL’s worst team, the Colorado Avalanche.
Expected to compete for the Pacific Division title at the start of the season, the Kings haven’t been able to find consistent offense. Their present ranking of 24th in the league at 2.44 goals per game is a big reason why they are chasing a Western Conference wild-card position instead of a division crown.
With 23 games remaining for Los Angeles, each game has increasing importance, and the players are aware that they must improve their performance and get results. Their puck-possession offense still creates opportunities, and their defense is still solid, but the lack of goal-scoring has the Kings at the top of the list of clubs looking to add a skilled forward by the March 1 trade deadline.
“We need to win some games and get a streak going so we can get into the playoffs, so we can be comfortable and not be waiting until the last game of the season,” Los Angeles center Tyler Toffoli said.
While the win against Colorado alleviate the pressure of a growing losing streak, the Kings know their level of performance needs to improve significantly over the season’s final weeks. A one-goal win against a cellar-dweller is not the type of effort that will defeat a Boston team that has found its stride under Cassidy.
“We’ll look at the good stuff we did and we’ll probably compare it to other games and look at that kind of stuff and move in to Thursday against Boston and hopefully we can keep it going,” Kings left winger Tanner Pearson said.
Goalie Peter Budaj, who has played the majority of the games in the absence of Jonathan Quick, appears to be back on track after a stretch of yielding 19 goals in five goals. He gave up just one goal in each of his past two games, the victory against Colorado and a 1-0 loss in Anaheim on Sunday.
A change in the goaltending rotation is on the horizon as Quick nears a return from the groin injury that has sidelined him for all but 20 minutes of play this season. The Kings placed Jeff Zatkoff on waivers Wednesday, and with Quick still seven to 14 days away, they will either recall Jack Campbell from their AHL Ontario affiliate or trade for a backup goalie.