After a long win streak put them back in the Western Conference playoff picture, two straight losses have shown that nothing is certain for the Los Angeles Kings.
The defending champions don’t figure to receive any favors Sunday at MTS Centre against the Winnipeg Jets, who exhibited playoff-like intensity their last time out.
Los Angeles (29-20-12) resembled a team with a Stanley Cup hangover for much of the season before emerging from it with an eight-game win streak Feb. 7-24 that included victories over top opponents such as Washington, Detroit and Tampa Bay twice.
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The Kings, who were five points out of contention before the streak, held opponents to 1.4 goals per game on the surge to move into third place in the Pacific Division.
That defensive trend persevered in a 1-0 loss to Ottawa on Thursday, but the Kings took a step backward with Friday’s 4-2 loss at Anaheim. The Ducks, who had scored more than three goals once in their prior 10 games, netted four in the third period.
"We got away from the things that were winning us games previously," center Jeff Carter said. "This was a tough one. … At this point of the year when we’re blowing third-period leads, it’s tough to take because of the points we need right now."
Los Angeles can expect a similarly hungry effort from Winnipeg (31-20-12), which fought hard in a 2-1 shootout loss to St. Louis on Thursday. Despite failing to earn the extra point, coach Paul Maurice saw plenty to be proud of.
"In our room, (we’re focusing on) the way we played," Maurice said. "It was a well-played game, hard-fought game, good pace, good intensity. Disciplined, but hard.
"All positives. I didn’t think we were lacking in any area. … We can come to the rink and bring that game every night, then you’re proud of the way you play."
The Jets outhit the Blues 35 to 21 and Mark Scheifele tied it in the third to clinch the much-needed point. Winnipeg has earned at least one point in nine of 11 following a four-game losing streak Jan. 27-Feb. 2.
"It’s the way these guys are wired in this room," Scheifele told the Jets’ official website. "Guys feed off the challenge to test themselves against the best in the league. We have so much character in this room. This game proved it."
The Kings and Jets played an intense matchup at Staples Center on Jan. 10, combining for five goals and 10 penalties in the first period alone. Michael Hutchinson and Jonathan Quick each allowed four goals before the Jets won 5-4 in a shootout.
Los Angeles took the first meeting 4-1 on Oct. 12, which also came at Staples. The Kings won their last visit to Winnipeg 3-1 on March 6 to end a two-game skid there.
Hutchinson and Quick figure to square off again. Hutchinson is 4-0-3 in his last seven starts and has seemingly pried the starting job away from Ondrej Pavelec, who has allowed three or more goals in four straight.
Quick, who did not play Friday, has been excellent since the streak began, posting a 1.56 goals-against average with one shutout in nine games. His career 3.25 GAA versus the Jets is his worst against any opponent, but is 2-0-1 over his last three meetings.
Blake Wheeler could return Sunday after missing the last two games with a lower-body injury. He has four goals and four assists in 11 career matchups against the Kings.
Justin Williams’ 37 career points against Winnipeg are his most versus any Western Conference opponent.