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Game Day Preview #71, Los Angeles Kings @ Calgary Flames

Welcome home (again), Jarome Iginla!

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Los Angeles Kings (34-29-7) @ Calgary Flames (40-27-4)

How to Watch and What to Watch

A while back, we had all of these Calgary games on our calendar as must wins, largely because Calgary was who the Kings were chasing. Denying the Flames points would have gone a long way towards the Kings’ goals. Of course, it still will, but it’s not just the Flames who the Kings are trying to catch. It’s a little bit of Calgary, a little bit of Nashville, a little bit of Edmonton. St. Louis leapfrogged the Predators to jump out of the wild card race. It’s going to come down to the wire, which means a lot of learning new coping mechanisms for all of us.

Calgary has been red hot lately, winning nine of their last ten. Goalie Brian Elliott has rebounded after a rough start and is looking for his eleventh straight win. That’s far cry from cedeing his starter’s net to Chad Johnson of all people. He’s been looking like the starter that Calgary had been hoping he would be, and that the Blues gave up on.

It’s hard to tell how legitimate of a contender Calgary is -- they were riding high a few years ago, when they played spoiler to the Kings’ playoff chances, too -- but right now, they are -- pardon the sort-of pun -- on fire. And many of their wins have been coming against strong teams -- a 5-0 win against Montreal, a 4-3 win against the Penguins.

Johnny Gaudreau, Dougie Hamilton, and Matt Tkachuk have led the team in scoring since mid-February. They’re the ones leading the charge, propelling the team to a 12-1-1 record since then, the best record in the league. Each line has some legit scoring threats, and their combination of speed, wily playmakers, and grit (hi, Matty Tkachuk) can create havoc at both ends of the rink.

The Kings ground out a 2-0 victory against the Buffalo Sabres, a game that they made much more difficult than was strictly necessary, which is essentially the Los Angeles Kings Story, this year and every year.

Adrian Kempe continues to impress, using his speed and hockey smarts to show why he’s been the team’s most highly touted prospect. We can debate from here to the start of the next season whether Kempe should have been called up earlier, if he could have made more of a difference in the Kings’ offensive output, but it’s a moot point now. He’s scoring some nifty goals and getting some good looks, which at least adds some excitement to the slog of the end of the season.

The big storyline of course -- aside from the perpetual struggle to score goals -- is Jarome Iginla’s return to Calgary, where he built his career. While his status for next season remains uncertain, he’s being given a hero’s welcome. It may be the last time Flames fans get to see him in action -- until he, perhaps, signs one last contract in the place his career all started. (One day? One year? We’ll see.)

Must win? That’s every game from here on out. Let’s go.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Brown - Kopitar - Iginla
Pearson - Carter - Toffoli
Gaborik - Kempe - Lewis
Andreoff - Dowd - Clifford

Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - LaDue
Gravel - Martinez

Quick
(Bishop)

Calgary Flames

Tkachuk-Backlund-Frolik
Gaudreau-Monahan-Chiasson
Versteeg-Stajan-Brouwer
Lazar-Bennett-Bouma

Giordano - Hamilton
Brodie - Stone
Bartkowski - Engelland

Elliott
(Johnson)

Opposing Preview: Matchsticks and Gasoline