Another shutdown performance has the Los Angeles Kings joining a crowded group vying for the Western Conference's best record.
With a chance to further cloud the playoff picture, they'll put their NHL-leading defense up against the league's top offense in Tuesday night's key matchup with the Dallas Stars.
Los Angeles (41-22-5) has closed within four points of Dallas (41-20-9) and St. Louis for the conference's top spot by winning eight of its last 11. The Kings, who own two games in hand on the Stars and three on the Blues, matched both in the victory column after routing slumping Chicago 5-0 on Monday.
The Kings breezed through the first challenge of a back-to-back road set against two of the West's main contenders, receiving goals from trade-deadline addition Kris Versteeg and Milan Lucic in the opening four minutes to support Jonathan Quick's 32 saves.
“Obviously we want to come out first in the conference if we can, but we have a lot of work to do,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “We're still a few points back of other teams, but yeah, we have some big games coming up, a big one against Dallas (Tuesday), and we've got to do the same sort of things.”
Quick earned his 41st career shutout – most by an American-born goaltender – and improved to 7-2-1 with a 1.78 goals-against average over a 10-start stretch. He's been the backbone of a defense that's yielded a league-low 154 goals and just 20 over the last 12 games.
Either Quick or reliable backup Jhonas Enroth, who posted a 23-save shutout against Buffalo in his last start on Feb. 27, will face a Dallas attack that's amassed an NHL-high 225 goals and has been in peak form on this five-game homestand. After rolling to a 5-2 victory over the Blackhawks in Friday's opener, the Stars got late scores from red-hot Jason Spezza and Jamie Benn to rally for an important point in Saturday's 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis.
''The boys played a hell of a hockey game,'' coach Lindy Ruff said. ''It's been a hell of a weekend for us, getting three out of four (points) and how hard they competed.''
Spezza scored twice to extend his goal streak to a career-high six games. The veteran center has 10 in his past 10.
“He's playing his best hockey, by far, all year,” Ruff told the Stars' official website. “I really like the way he's playing. Offensively, since the time he's been here, this is the best he's been.”
Stopping opponents has been a far more difficult task. Dallas has surrendered a league-high 47 goals over its past 12 games and has had its defensive depth depleted by recent injuries to John Klingberg (lower body), Jason Demers (shoulder) and Jordie Benn (lower body).
Kari Lehtonen has brought some stability in net of late, moving to 3-1-0 with a 2.24 GAA over his last four starts with Friday's 21-save effort against Chicago.
While the back line remains thin, the Stars may get another scorer back on Tuesday with Patrick Sharp nearing a return from a lower-body injury that's sidelined him five games.
Quick had 27 saves and Lucic scored the tie-breaking goal in the third period as the Kings won 3-2 at home in the teams' lone previous meeting this season on Jan. 19.
Lucic is on a six-game point streak and has five goals in his last seven against Dallas.