LOS ANGELES -- The St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings faceoff in a pivotal game at Staples Center Monday. The two teams are in the midst of a battle for the second and final wild-card spot in the Western Conference with St. Louis holding a three-point lead with 15 games remaining for both teams.
Both teams enter the contest with modest winning streaks, the Blues (35-27-5) won their fourth straight game on Saturday against the New York Islanders, 4-3, while the Kings captured their second straight with a come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals. The teams have split two games this season with St. Louis winning 1-0 on Oct. 29 and the Kings returning the favor in a 5-1 home triumph on Jan. 12.
"The win against the Islanders is good for our confidence," said winger Vladimir Tarasenko. "If you look at the standings, the upcoming games in California are very important."
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Tarasenko, the Blues' leading scorer with 31 goals, is heating up for the stretch drive, his two-goal performance against New York gives him four goals in his last three games after a five-game goalless streak. With a critical swing game to be played, Blues coach Mike Yeo hopes to have a full roster ready. Center Paul Stastny and defenseman Colton Parayko missed Saturday's game but Yeo is optimistic they will play.
"It's a great challenge for us, it's a very important part of our season. The Kings are putting a lot of emphasis on the game and if we want to win, he better too," Yeo said. "These type of games are fun and there's a chance that Stastny and Parayko play."
Sitting in ninth place in the West, Los Angeles (33-28-6) is already in playoff mode and every win is critical if they hope to vault over St. Louis and into a playoff position. The Washington victory was highlighted by the first NHL career goal by Adrian Kempe, a 20-year-old Swedish winger and their 2015 first-round draft pick. With the Kings offense floundering all season, coach Darryl Sutter hopes his youth and speed will invigorate a slumbering offense.
"Part of it is our style of play that's Kings' hockey," said defenseman Alec Martinez. "We just have to stick with it for 60 minutes. It's no secret that we find ourselves in this position a lot, tied games, one-goal games, our guys are used to being in a position like that. We had a big goal there by Adrian and that was huge for us."
Sutter tried to deemphasize the importance of the game but to fall further back in the points race with less than a month remaining in the season is not the easiest path to the postseason. With a healthy Jonathan Quick in goal, the Kings need to have a solid stretch of games against one of the most difficult remaining schedules, 10 of their last 15 games are against current playoff qualifiers the most of any Western Conference contender and six more than the Blues.
"All the teams that are close to you stand out," Sutter told reporters Sunday. "I don't think we can get too far ahead or too far back or any of that stuff. We usually have good games with them. We've played St. Louis lots over the years. We're trying to be a good middle-of-the-pack team, which is what our realistic expectations were coming into the year."