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Game Day Preview #80, Colorado Avalanche @ Los Angeles Kings

And then there were three.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Colorado Avalanche (42-28-9) @ Los Angeles Kings (43-28-8)

Game Time: 7:30 PM, Prime

No one said this was going to be easy.

And the more down-to-the-wire it gets, the more critical every game — every period — every shift is.

There’s three games left, including this one. With Dallas having finally been eliminated, and Minnesota firmly in place in the Central standings, tonight’s game has the biggest impact on the Kings’ chances at the post-season.

If there’s anything to be learned from last night’s infuriating Ducks/Avalanche game, other than two of us have a pretty passable Good Cop/Frantically Upset Cop routine on the internet —

— it’s that the Avalanche, down their starting goaltender (Varlamov) and a top-four defenseman (Erik Johnson), are a vulnerable team. They surrendered a two goal lead to the Ducks in the third, despite also outshooting Anaheim in that period (12-9). Jonathan Bernier has done an admirable job this season, playing more of a tandem goaltender role than expected, due to Varlamov’s injuries. This will be Bernier’s first start against the Kings this season; he played just over 27 minutes in relief of Varlamov during the Anze Kopitar Four Goal Game of Glory (that’s what I’m calling it, at least) last month.

The MacKinnon/Rantanen/Landeskog line can try to put pucks behind Jonathan Quick, but unless Bernier and the Avs’ patchwork defense are up to the task, it may not matter.

The Kings roll out roughly the same lines as they did against the Ducks. Kyle Clifford, who did in fact have a strong game against the Ducks, gets the promotion to the third line, swapping place with Nate Thompson.

While it still doesn’t necessarily provide Adrian Kempe the skilled wingers needed for him to rediscover his scoring touch, with Alex Iafallo out with what’s allegedly a minor injury, there aren’t many alternatives, and Kempe’s proving himself to have adapted better than expected to the defensive role he’s been playing.

On defense, Paul LaDue gets back in, to be paired with Dion Phaneuf. It’s an interesting move — in theory, the pairing would give LaDue more of a chance to jump up and get involved in plays, with Phaneuf staying back. And if they’re on the third pairing, potentially Phaneuf’s minutes could be more limited, to keep him from creeping up into the 20+ minute mark.

Realistically, Drew Doughty’s probably going to play 30 minutes and LaDue’s going to play 12.

Not to be all Woman Blogger Makes Reality TV Reference, but: you’re either in or you’re out. Time for the Kings to control as much of their own destiny as they can, and get in the “in” column.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

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

Forbort - Doughty
Martinez - Folin
Phaneuf - LaDue

Quick
(Campbell)

Colorado Avalanche

Landeskog - MacKinnon - Rantanen
Kerfoot - Jost - Andrighetto
Nieto - Soderberg - Comean
Yakupov - Compher - Bourque

Zadorov - Barrie
Nemeth - Alt
Warsofsky - Girard

Bernier
(Hammond)

Opposing Preview: Mile High Hockey