Preview: Wild at Kings
The Kings (44-28-8) qualified for the postseason on Wednesday night with the St. Louis Blues’ 4-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Los Angeles returned to the postseason in coach John Stevens’ initial season behind the bench. Stevens replaced Darryl Sutter after the Kings sputtered to a 10th-place finish in the 2016-17 season and combined with new general manager Rob Blake to pivot the team into a more up-tempo, offensive-minded team while not forgetting their defensive roots. The result was a double-digit standings point improvement and a slight chance to gain home-ice advantage if the Kings win their remaining two games and the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks lose in either of their last two matches.
Los Angeles is battling through significant injuries among its defensive corps that could place two rookies into the lineup on Thursday. Jake Muzzin and Derek Forbort are sidelined with injuries that have them categorized as ‘week-to-week’ by Stevens. Forbort suffered a lower-body injury early in the first period against Colorado, forcing Stevens to utilize Alec Martinez for 32:11 of game play. Paul LaDue stepped in to play 16:32, and fellow rookie Kevin Gravel looks to round out the third defensive pair.
“It’s been the next man up,” Stevens said. “It’s odd that there are that many defenseman injuries this time of the year. It’s the schedule, everybody wants to put pucks in deep and forecheck, so the speed of the game — Minnesota’s lost a couple guys, just like we have.”
The Kings recorded victories in the two previous games between the teams this season, winning 5-2 on Dec. 5 in Los Angeles and getting a 4-3 overtime triumph on Mar. 19.
The Wild (44-26-10) clinched a playoff spot on Monday night and opened their three-game California road trip with a 3-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night. Matt Dumba registered the Minnesota goal and Devan Dubnyk stopped 27 of 29 Anaheim shots.
Despite a loss in a game that was meaningless to their postseason aspirations, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau liked his team’s performance in a tight checking game that should be the brand of hockey they will face in the postseason.
“The first two periods we were really good,” Boudreau said. “The third period they definitely outworked us. It was a great test that this is what playoff hockey’s going to be like. The Ducks were in the third period a desperate hockey club. Maybe it’s a cheap lesson learned, hopefully.”
Their remaining two games will not affect their playoff seeding as they are locked into the No. 3 seed in the Central Division and will face either the Nashville Predators or the Winnipeg Jets. With both potential opponents among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, Boudreau welcomes the challenges they present.
“The great thing is, if you can beat either one of those teams, you can beat any team in the league because those are two of maybe the top three teams in the NHL,” Boudreau said.
Like Stevens, Boudreau must manage a team with significant injuries on the blue line with less than a week until the playoffs starts.
Ryan Suter, one of the top defenseman in the NHL, was lost for the season after suffering a fractured right ankle in a 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Saturday night. Suter underwent surgery on Monday to repair the fracture.