Kings, Stars resume push toward the playoffs
KINGS (37-20-4) at STARS (28-21-12)
Los Angeles 8-1-1; Dallas 6-3-1
This is the fourth of six meetings. On Oct. 19, the Kings scored four consecutive goals -- three in the third period -- for a 4-1 road win. Ryan Smyth got the comeback started with a power-play goal, and he was followed by Justin Williams, Anze Kopitar and Wayne Simmonds. On Oct. 22, Michal Handzus scored 55 seconds into overtime to give the Kings a 5-4 win at home. Earlier in the contest, Kopitar scored his first career hat trick, and James Neal
scored twice for Dallas. On Dec. 12, Handzus again delivered the winning score, this time in a shootout for a 3-2 home win.
The push for the playoffs is officially underway, but Los Angeles and Dallas combined to have six players already experience a playoff atmosphere at the Winter Olympics, skating in the bronze and gold medal games.
"The players coming back from the Olympics, I think they're going to be energized rather than being tired," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "All these players that we have there … that's a pretty exciting and a very special time for those guys. So they're going to bring a lot of energy back to our team and I'm sure will play with a high-end kind of game through the whole remaining part of the season."
Los Angeles is beginning a two-game road trip that will also take them to Nashville on Thursday.
The Kings are in fifth place in the Western Conference, 10 points ahead of ninth-place Dallas, and are third in the Pacific Division behind Phoenix and San Jose. With the second-best record after 61 games in franchise history, the Kings are in prime contention to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02.
Last Wednesday, Williams skated for the first time since breaking his ankle during a Dec. 26 game at Phoenix. He is on track for a quicker-than-expected return.
"I have never gone through pieces of paper, writing down lines, where I haven't put his number over in the corner, as a reminder that this is a player who played very well for us. It's quite likely that he will be back for us in the last games of the season," Murray said.
Dallas is starting a two-game homestand that includes a visit from St. Louis on Thursday. They won three of four games -- two by shutout, both against Phoenix -- before the Olympics, but coach Marc Crawford said the break came at a good time for the Stars.
"Even though we were playing well, I think we'll benefit from the rest that was provided, especially guys like (Stephane) Robidas and (Mike) Modano," he said. "There were guys who were clearly fatigued down the stretch. (Marty Turco) is playing very well and we’re getting some timely scoring. We're going to be refreshed, and hopefully their confidence is boosted."
Tuesday will be the first time Dallas has newly acquired goaltender Kari Lehtonen
at its disposal. He was obtained from the Atlanta Thrashers on Feb. 9.
The Stars are currently ninth, one point behind Calgary for the final Western playoff berth with a game in hand on the Flames. The Stars have never missed the postseason for two straight seasons since relocating to Dallas in 1993-94.
From the Kings, Jack Johnson was 0-1-1 for the United States, Drew Doughty was 0-2-2 for Canada, and Handzus was 3-3-6 for Slovakia at the Winter Olympics. From the Stars, Loui Eriksson
was 3-1-4 for Sweden, and Brenden Morrow
was 2-1-3 for Canada.
For the Kings, Andrei Loktionov (shoulder) and Justin Williams (broken right leg) are on injured reserve. For the Stars, Brian Sutherby
(upper-body), Tom Wandell
(lower-body), Mark Fistric
(knee) and Steve Ott
(appendectomy) are on injured reserve.
With his next victory, goaltender Jonathan Quick of the Kings will break the single-season franchise record of 35 set by Mario Lessard in 1980-81. … Turco is one game away from 500 in his NHL career. His record is 259-149-26-35.
"We played solid right before the break, and it's important that we start off again the same way. We were just playing better before the break, and now we know how we can play. We just have to play the same way." -- Stars center Mike Ribeiro