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Game Day Preview #56, Los Angeles Kings @ Carolina Hurricanes

The road trip grinds on. At least this stop has some good BBQ.

Carolina Hurricanes v Los Angeles Kings

Preview: Los Angeles Kings (30-20-5) @ Carolina Hurricanes (26-21-9)

Game Time: 4:00 PM, FS-W

While no one was looking — it’s excusable, all eyes over here are on the Western Conference standings, and the constant flip-flop game that the Kings are playing — the Carolina Hurricanes vaulted themselves into a playoff position. It comes after two straight road wins, and five wins in their last ten games. Granted, the rest of the East isn’t too far behind; the Blue Jackets and the Islanders are only one point behind, the Rangers are two points back, and all four of those teams play today.

So unlike in other years, where by this time of year, the Hurricanes are already out of contention and contemplating selling at the deadline, the Hurricanes are right in the thick of things. They’ve struggled with consistency this year, perhaps more than usual even — their typically dependable penalty kill is 17th in the league overall. It’s improved if you look at their totals from the beginning of the year to current (seventh, at 83.3%). They’re a team that’s typically been defensively sound, but struggled to put pucks in the net, and didn’t always have the goaltending to back them up even when they were scoring. The Hurricanes are constantly touted as a team that just needs a little something more. Not all of their offseason acquisitions have worked out — Josh Jooris and Marcus Kruger have both been waived and sent to the AHL, and hopeful goaltending savior Scott Darling has struggled to backstop his new team.

Justin Williams, of course, continues to be perfect. (He’s third on his team in points, behind young Finns Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen.)

The Kings split the first two games in their road trip, with a dominant performance (and a back-to-top-form Jonathan Quick) against the Florida Panthers, and a too-little-too-late comeback attempt against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The two points dropped against the Lightning were rough — the failure to get anything out of that game has bounced the Kings back out of the playoff standings — but also bad is the loss of Dustin Brown, serving a one-game suspension.

Brown being out of the game puts Mike Amadio back in, who will be playing on the wing on a somewhat cobbled together third line. The Kings are out of extra forwards, with Marian Gaborik drawing in for the injured Trevor Lewis, so on top of everything else, now the Kings have to hope that no one else is hit with an injury on this road trip.

As it has been all season, turning the jets on in the third period to try to come back from a deficit is very difficult, and while the Kings have been more successful at it than expected, it shouldn’t be something we have to see every time they play. The Lightning capitalized on simple errors and turnovers by the Kings, and we all saw what happened after that. The Hurricanes, despite their struggles, have the talent up and down their lineup to do the same.

The points on the line in this game have big playoff implications for both teams. Both teams should come out motivated and well-rested (both have been off since Saturday). Adjusting to play without Brown and Lewis is going to be a challenge — they’re both core pieces of this team, regardless of how often they show up on the score sheet — but who doesn’t love a challenge?

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Iafallo - Kopitar - Toffoli
Pearson - Kempe -Gaborik
Clifford - Mitchell - Amadio
Andreoff - Shore - Brodzinski

Forbort - Doughty
Muzzin - LaDue
Martinez - Folin

Quick
(Kuemper)

Carolina Hurricanes

McGinn - Staal - Lindholm
Teravainen - Rask - Williams
Skinner - Aho - Stempniak
Nordstrom - Ryan - Di Giuseppe

Slavin - Pesce
Fleury - Faulk
Hanifin - van Riemsdyk

Ward
(Darling)

Opposing Preview: Canes Country