Late-season surges are becoming the norm for the Los Angeles Kings, and they’re proving again that they should be considered dangerous come playoff time.
Los Angeles seeks a sixth straight victory as it kicks off a three-game homestand against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night.
The Kings went from eighth seed in the Western Conference to Stanley Cup champions in 2012, then made a run to the conference finals as a five seed last season before falling to Chicago in five games.
Los Angeles (43-25-6) seems to be getting hot at the right time again, putting together a winning streak that has all but secured third place in the Pacific Division and a date with either San Jose or Anaheim in the first round.
The Kings swept a three-game East Coast trip with Thursday’s 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh, and they’ve won 12 of 15 since the Olympic break.
”To be hitting our stride at this point and beating some very good teams we had to play in the East right now, that’s a confidence booster,” said defenseman Drew Doughty, who scored the tie-breaking goal early in the third against the Penguins.
The Kings likely are too far behind to catch the division leader before the postseason. They had to contend with a groin injury to goaltender Jonathan Quick that forced him to miss 24 games earlier in the season, as well as a spotty offense that ranks near the bottom of the league in goals.
The addition of Marian Gaborik to add punch to the offense is reminiscent of the acquisition of Jeff Carter shortly before Los Angeles’ run to the Stanley Cup, though. Gaborik has three goals and three assists since being acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline.
Quick has won four straight starts with a 1.68 goals-against average, but it was Martin Jones who made 35 saves Thursday as the Kings killed off all seven of Pittsburgh’s power plays.
”Our penalty kill was unbelievable,” Jones said. ”Everybody who was out there was awesome, blocking shots."
Quick likely will be back in net for this contest. He made 17 saves as Los Angeles fired 41 shots at Winnipeg in a 3-1 victory March 6.
The Jets (33-32-9) still possess extremely faint postseason hopes as they trail Phoenix by nine points for the West’s second wild-card spot. They had lost nine of 11 before beating San Jose 4-3 on Thursday.
”We talked about the playoff race for the first time tonight,” coach Paul Maurice said. ”It’s a long hill to climb, but this is the way we need to play every night.”
Blake Wheeler finished with a goal and two assists, giving him two goals and eight assists over his last six. He realizes Winnipeg has a very slim chance of going to the playoffs, but the victory over one of the league’s top teams should provide some confidence moving forward.
”We’re a long shot coming into the building against arguably the best team in the league,” Wheeler said. ”We just tried to make one more play than they did and it worked out for us.”
Al Montoya made 27 saves, but starter Ondrej Pavelec returned to practice Wednesday and could be ready to play in this contest. Pavelec, who made 33 saves in the Jets’ 5-3 win over the Kings on Oct. 4, has missed six games since suffering a lower-body injury March 14.