The two hottest teams in the NHL are quite familiar with one another. In fact the two squads, the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers, met in the NHL finals last season when the Kings took home the Stanley Cup in five games.
Last year’s runners-up, the Rangers (36-16-6) have been playing well and could jump their crosstown rivals, the New York Islanders, for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with a win in their game tonight against the Calgary Flames. The Kings (28-18-12), on the other hand, have won seven games in a row and are beginning to look like the team that won the Stanley Cup last season. The latest Kings win was a big 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks outdoors at the San Francisco 49ers Levi Stadium.
"We're on a little roll here and I think we can build off tonight and keep going,” Kings forward Trevor Lewis told the Los Angeles Times after the win. “It seems like when our backs are against the wall, this team finds a way to pull out of it."
After suffering a three-game losing streak, the Kings have reversed their fortunes and propelled themselves just barely into playoff position. Over the seven-game run, the Kings have scored 25 goals while allowing just 13. Tyler Toffoli has come up big for L.A., with six goals including a hat trick against the Flames. The Rangers are on a hot streak of their own, winning six of their last seven games. Over the stretch, the Rangers have scored 34 goals while allowing 21. Veteran left wing Rick Nash has been in top form, scoring eight goals and adding six assists in February.
The Rangers have been playing without star goalie Henrik Lundqvist who suffered a sprained blood vessel in his neck after being struck with a puck on Jan. 31. His replacement Cam Talbot has an impressive 2.59 goals-against-average, compared with Lundqvist’s 2.25 average. The offense has made up for that difference however, and Talbot has a 10-5 record. Despite their recent stellar play and their second place divisional standing, the Rangers seem to acknowledge how quickly things can change.
“Our first goal is to get a check mark by our name,” New York coach Alain Vigneault told the New York Post. “It’s not easy to get that check mark to say that you’re officially in the playoffs. Once you get that check mark, then if you have the possibility to get higher in the standings where you can get home ice advantage, that would be your next goal. Right now, there’s a lot of hockey to be played.”
The Rangers have been scoring with reckless abandon and may be headed for a top seed. The Kings, on the other hand, have become defensive stalwarts that are scrapping to qualify for the playoffs after the loss of Slava Voynov and injuries to Alec Martinez and Robyn Regehr. Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick’s 1.87 goals-against-average over the past seven games has been vital. Throughout the streak, Quick has stopped 185 shots on 198 attempts, a 93.4 percent save percentage. Carey Price leads the NHL in save percentage for the year at 93.5 percent. If Quick can maintain his level of play, teams will hope to avoid a series with the Kings, winners of two of the last three Stanley Cups.
Both the Kings and Rangers are playing extremely good hockey and as it stands both would make the playoffs. It's still a long way until the postseason, but the two big-market clubs are at least showing encouraging signs with 24 games left on the schedule.