LOS ANGELES — The Arizona Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings meet at Staples Center on Tuesday with the stakes much higher for the home team than the visitors.
The Kings play the penultimate game of a seven-game homestand against an Arizona team that is looking to derail Los Angeles’ fading playoff hopes.
No home team has posted a win in the first three games of the teams’ five-game series. Los Angeles (33-29-6) triumphed 4-3 on Dec. 21 and 3-2 on Jan. 31 at Gila River Arena, while Arizona (25-35-8) captured the most recent game, 5-3 on Feb. 16 at Staples Center.
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Both teams are playing the second of back-to-back games, with Coyotes wining 1-0 at home against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday while the Kings dropped a key 3-1 decision against the St. Louis Blues.
Brendan Perlini scored the lone goal in the Coyotes’ victory, and goaltender Mike Smith had a relatively easy time between the pipes, needing only 22 saves to post his third shutout of the season. Smith set the franchise record for shutouts with 22, passing Ilya Bryzgalov and Nikolai Khabibulin.
Smith admitted he was aware of the impending mark as the seconds ticked down.
“I’m not going to lie, it was kind of trickling into my brain late in that game,” Smith said.
Though residing in the Pacific basement, the Coyotes usually play a competitive game against their division rivals. Although Arizona has not played a game of consequence for months, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett stresses that the final games are still significant.
“There is lots to play for,” Tippett said. “The last couple games I feel like we’ve played well. We have to continue to do that. Our young players are contributing, which is a big factor for us right now. We need everybody, and need our veterans to play well. We’re in a situation we have go out and play to win every night. That’s what we expect our players to do.”
Far more than individual accolades is at stake for Los Angeles as they are embroiled in a race with the Blues for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Los Angeles sits five points off the pace. With a difficult schedule ahead — nine of the last 14 games are against current playoff qualifiers — the Kings are counting on taking two points against inferior competition.
The loss to St. Louis has moved the contest against Arizona from a “trap game” to a “must-win” contest. With few breathers on the schedule, the Kings know their margin of error becomes narrower with any defeat, either in regulation, overtime or a shootout.
“The best part about this game we play again tomorrow,” Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said after the Monday defeat. “If we win tomorrow night, it looks good again in the standings.”
Capitan Anze Kopitar agreed with his coach but stressed that the Kings’ sense of urgency must be dialed up the rest of the season.
“It definitely stinks, but at the same time, we have another one tomorrow, which is obviously a big game,” Kopitar said. “We have got to get the two points tomorrow.”