(SportsNetwork.com) - The Los Angeles Kings have earned the reputation as a team that thrives with its back up against the wall. They'll need to prove it again on Thursday with their playoff hopes on the line in a crucial road battle against the Calgary Flames.
The Kings won their second Stanley Cup title in three seasons last spring and along the way overcame a 3-0 series' deficit in the first round against San Jose. However, the reigning champs won't get a chance to the defend the title in 2015 if they lose in regulation tonight against the Flames.
L.A. has two avenues into the postseason, but both roads are closing fast. With 93 points, the Kings are two behind Calgary for the third and final playoff seed from the Pacific Division with two games left for both teams. The Flames can eliminate Los Angeles from the division race with a win of any fashion this evening.
Winnipeg, meanwhile, is three points in front of the Kings for the last wild card spot in the Western Conference. The Jets also have two games left and can knock L.A. out of the wild card race if they get a win tonight at Colorado.
If the Kings fail to make the playoffs they would be the first Stanley Cup champs to miss the postseason the following year since Carolina failed to qualify in 2007.
L.A. hasn't missed the playoffs since 2009.
The Kings have lost two straight games and suffered a huge blow on Tuesday when they dropped a 4-2 road test to the Edmonton Oilers, who are second from last in the West standings. The costly regulation defeat came less than a week after the Kings embarrassed the Oilers with an 8-2 rout in L.A.
Edmonton had gone 14 straight games without a regulation win over the Kings, but ended that dubious streak with the shocking victory at Rexall Place.
"We wanted a little redemption from last week," said Edmonton's Matt Fraser. "It felt good to play the spoiler."
One day after losing in a shootout to the Canucks, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter curiously sat star goaltender Jonathan Quick despite his 14-1-5 career record against the Oilers. Martin Jones made 18 saves in the surprise start.
"It wasn't an easy decision," Sutter said of inserting Jones. "It wasn't one that was made (Monday), it was one made a few days ago."
After scoring a season-high eight goals against the Oilers last Thursday, the Kings only managed to put two pucks into the net in the rematch. Jake Muzzin recorded a power-play tally in the second period and the other L.A. score came when Drew Doughty beat Richard Bachman on a seemingly innocuous shot from center ice with 10:22 remaining in the third to pull the Kings within 3-2.
The Kings would never get the equalizer and Fraser sealed the Edmonton win with an empty-netter just before the final horn.
Before the book closed on L.A.'s loss, the Flames polished off a 3-2 home win over the Arizona Coyotes. Sean Monahan scored the winning goal in the third period to help Calgary record the victory and move two points ahead of the Kings.
Johnny Gaudreau and David Jones also scored for the Flames, who have won four of their last five. Jonas Hiller allowed two goals on 24 shots.
Calgary is hoping to decide its playoff fate tonight rather than seeing its postseason push hinge on Saturday's season finale in Winnipeg. The Flames last made the playoffs in 2009.
"There are so many things going on. You never know," said Hiller. "At the end, we've got to win one of those last two games. I'd rather win on Thursday and we can go to Winnipeg knowing we've made the playoffs. It's going to be a tough game."
With Karri Ramo out for the remainder of the regular season, Hiller will start tonight's game. He is 11-9-3 with a 2.41 goals against average in 24 career games versus the Kings.
Sutter will insert Quick back into the L.A. crease. The Kings netminder is 10-6-4 with a 1.81 GAA in 20 lifetime starts against Calgary.
The Flames won the first three of five meetings this season with the Kings before L.A. posted a 5-2 home win on Feb. 12. That victory halted Calgary's four-game winning streak in this series, but the Kings have dropped two straight at the Saddledome.
Calgary is 22-13-5 as the host this season, while the Kings are only 15-17-8 on the road.