The Los Angeles Kings will try to avoid falling out of a playoff spot when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night.
The Kings (39-27-10, 88 points) are third in the Pacific Division, but just one point ahead of the fourth-place Vegas Golden Knights, who visit the second-place Edmonton Oilers on Saturday afternoon.
Vegas has also played one fewer game than the Kings.
The two teams in the wild-card spots in the West, the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars, each have 89 points with eight games left.
“We’re still very much in the hunt,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said. “It is crunch time.”
Los Angeles didn’t play that way in its most recent game, getting clubbed by the Colorado Avalanche 9-3 on Wednesday in Denver. The Avalanche will likely be the top-seeded team from the Western Conference for the playoffs.
“That was awful and we move on,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “We get an opportunity to play more games, so good for us and we have to be better.”
The final six games for Los Angeles are against teams outside the playoff bubble heading into the weekend.
“There’s no time to look back at this one now,” Kopitar said of the loss to Colorado. “We have to focus ahead on the next game, and make sure when we come home, that we look like a playoff team.”
Columbus (35-33-6, 76 points) is out of playoff contention, but has won three of its past four following a season-long seven-game losing streak.
The Blue Jackets beat the visiting Montreal Canadiens 5-1 on Wednesday.
Kent Johnson and Nick Blankenburg made their NHL debuts against Montreal, just a week after they finished their college careers at Michigan.
“I thought they did just fine,” Columbus coach Brad Larsen said. “For your first NHL game, there’s a lot going on in your head.”
Blankenburg, a defenseman who went undrafted, assisted on Cole Sillinger’s third-period goal for his first NHL point.
Johnson, a forward and the fifth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, took one shot in 11:05 of ice time.
“I heard a lot about Johnny and his game,” Larsen said. “I think he worked tonight. I think he was trying to make plays. I think the game is a little faster here. He’s going to be fine.”
Columbus forward Jack Roslovic has scored half of his team’s 10 goals in the past two games.
He had a hat trick in a 5-4 overtime win at the Detroit Red Wings on April 9, and scored two goals in the win against the Canadiens.
“When it’s going, it’s going,” Roslovic said. “You take moments like this and try to hold onto them.”
There were some highlights for the Kings coming off their most recent game.
Jordan Spence had two assists for the first multi-point game of his NHL career. Troy Stecher, another defenseman, had an assist for his first point with the Kings.
Adrian Kempe also scored his team-leading 33rd goal of the season.
Still, the Kings can’t afford another performance like the one they delivered against the Avalanche.
“They’re at the top of the league and we did not look like a playoff team,” Kopitar said. “We have another six games left on our schedule and we’ve got to make sure that all six of them are better than that.”
–Field Level Media