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Game Day Preview #75, Los Angeles Kings @ Colorado Avalanche

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Nate MacKinnon’s got all the MVP buzz, but we’ve got Anze Kopitar.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Los Angeles Kings Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Los Angeles Kings (40-27-7) @ Colorado Avalanche (40-25-8)

Game Time: 6:00 PM, FS-W

Do we need to do a stress level check? How’s everyone doing out there? Resigned to the Kings’ fate, no matter what it may be? Cautiously optimistic? Breathing heavily into a paper bag? I personally am predisposed to resignation with a side order of screaming into the void, but we’ll all get through this together, okay? Including tonight, there are eight games left in the regular season, and we’ll all get through it. No hugs unless you want them, I promise.

The Kings’ road trip continues tonight in Denver as they take on the Avalanche, winners of six of their last ten. The Avalanche have done a complete turn-around from last season — which, admittedly, isn’t hard — and are one of several teams, Kings included, jockeying for the last few spots in the playoffs brackets. This year’s Avalanche team has been putting together a strong season, including a ten-game winning streak (broken, somehow, by the Montreal Canadiens).

Semyon Varlamov is putting up number that, while not quite up to par with his Vezina finalist year, are a pretty darn good bounceback from last season. He made 44 saves the other night against Chicago, which — look, Chicago’s not a great team, but 44 saves is still 44 saves. And Jonathan Bernier has proved to be a more than capable back-up, taking the reins when needed.

But the real story in Colorado is Nate MacKinnon, who’s having himself an MVP quality season, dragging his team to the playoffs whether they like it or not. MacKinnon, with Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, are one of the most potent top lines in hockey right now. MacKinnon is third in points in the league with 91. Since the start of February, he and Rantanen each have 30 points — that’s 30 points in 16 games for MacKinnon — putting them behind only Connor McDavid and Evgeni Malkin. While it’s arguable whether or not this is sustainable for MacKinnon — his 15.1% shooting percentage is the highest of his career — he’s blowing his previous career highs out of the water. He’s notched those 91 points in 65 games, having been limited by injury for parts of the season. It’s a remarkable run for him, and the MVP talk is well-deserved.

Of course, we’ve got our own top line center hitting career highs; Anze Kopitar’s own bounceback season has been as important to the Kings as MacKinnon’s been to the Avalanche, only without attracting quite as much media attention. Kopitar’s lead on Drew Doughty, the Kings’ number two points guy, is 28 points, far more than the difference between MacKinnon and Rantanen (12 points). And while the media love for our captain is lacking, Kings fans (and astute Western Conference Observers) know just how much he’s meant to this team.

Tonight we should see a matchup of best on best as Kopitar and MacKinnon go head to head. In a best case scenario, the two lines cancel each other out, and leave the Kings’ depth players to hopefully take control of the game. Even without Trevor Lewis, the Kings seem to have the advantage in the depth department. Rookie Alex Kerfoot on the fourth line could cause some problems; he’s fourth on the Avs in goals (behind their top line trio) and had two goals in the Avs’ last game against Chicago. (Of course, that broke a goalless streak going back to February 18, so maybe it was just a fluke.)

All the points left in the season are big ones. Get your paper bags for breathing ready.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Carter - Rieder
Thompson - Kempe - Toffoli
Clifford - Amadio - Mitchell

Forbort - Doughty
Martinez - Phaneuf
Muzzin - Folin

Quick
(Campbell)

Colorado Avalanche

Landeskog - MacKinnon - Rantanen
Jost - Compher - Andrighetto
Comeau - Kamenev - Nieto
Wilson - Kerfoot - Bourque

Johnson - Barrie
Nemeth - Girard
Zadorov - Siemens

Varlamov
(Bernier)

Opposing Preview: Mile High Hockey