LOS ANGELES -- The game between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night features two struggling teams in very different circumstances. While the Rangers are trying to improve their effort with an eye on the rapidly approaching postseason, the Kings face another must-win game to prop up their flickering playoff hopes.
Safely nestled into a playoff position, the Rangers (45-25-4) are likely happy to start a three-game California road trip given their sterling 26-9-1 record away from Madison Square Garden. They enter the game riding a two-game losing streak, dropping divisional games to the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders before heading west.
The New Yorkers have been mediocre down the stretch by posting 4-4-2 record over the last 10 games and short of a big finish, they will open the playoffs as the first wild-card qualifier in the Eastern Conference. Captain Ryan McDonagh is not concerned with their playoff seeding or their unusually poor home record of 19-16-3, he just needs to see more of the play that had his team close to the top of the Metropolitan Division most of the season.
"We're focused on playing good hockey, trying to win games, whether they are at home or on the road," McDonagh said. "We obviously haven't found success at home, so we've got to keep working."
Antti Raanta is scheduled to make the start on Saturday while fellow goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has missed the last seven games with a hip injury, will get the nod for Sunday's game against the Anaheim Ducks. Lundqvist is also expected to start Tuesday's tilt versus San Jose.
The Kings (35-31-7) and their slumbering offense finally awakened Thursday in a convincing 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets. Their special teams were the difference, delivering three power-play goals and one shorthanded goal. Los Angeles continues to perform well defensively killing off 66-of-72 penalties (91.7 percent) over its last 27 games, the best execution in the league during that span.
Adding Ben Bishop to the goaltending rotation with Jonathan Quick has provided strong netminding as the Kings enter the contest fifth overall in goals allowed per game. Despite being one of the better defensive teams in the league their consistent lack of offense has put them in a position to miss the playoffs for the second time in the last three seasons.
Only Colorado, Vancouver, New Jersey and Arizona have scored fewer goals this season than the 180 Los Angeles has registered and their 5-4-1 record over their last 10 games. The Kings trail Nashville and St. Louis -- they must past at least one of the two teams for playoff qualification - by eight points with only nine regular season games remaining.
Kings captain Anze Kopitar knows that the odds are against his team qualifying for the playoffs but that has not stopped him from making a late-season run offensively, his goal and assist in the Winnipeg victory gives him 10 points in his last 10 contests (five goals, five assists).
"In the second and third periods, we were holding on to the puck a lot better, making the plays, just playing hockey. Reacting on the ice instead of thinking too much and being hesitant. Obviously we have to do more of the same the next coming week," Kopitar said. "We have to win our games first. Whatever happens on the other side, for the wild-card race, is going to happen. But we have to make sure we're on our game, and making sure we're getting the two points every night."
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