With eight games remaining, the only meaningful playoff battle for the Kings is qualification

Entering the four-game trip to Western Canada, we talked about the Kings being in a playoff race upon their return to California. It just wasn’t clear which race the Kings would be in when they returned.

Would it be a fight for home-ice advantage in round one, a fight for the third spot in the Pacific Division or simply a fight to make the playoffs?

Following a trip-opening victory, setting the stage for a big game in Edmonton, it looked like we might be looking at the former. As we return home though, and the team recovers from a 2:30 AM arrival, Pacific time, following three consecutive losses to end the trip with a record of 1-3-0, the race has been defined. It’s not that they aren’t firmly in more than one of those races, because they are. The Kings sit just three points behind Vegas (3-Pacific) and Nashville (1-Wild Card). But, the fact of the matter is, the Kings also sit just three points clear of the Blues in the Western Conference playoff standings with eight games to play. Until that race is won, seeding or opponent really don’t matter anymore. It’s got to be a singular focus on simply getting in, because that’s the only race that really matters right now.

I’ve been as guilty as anyone at looking further. Thinking about how the Kings potentially matchup in various scenarios, preferred or not preferred. At this point, though, potential seeding, matchups and situations should all be secondary chatter. Right now, the focus has to be singular. Accumulate enough points to qualify for the postseason and take it from there.

“We need every point we can get,” defenseman Matt Roy said. “We’re not in a playoff spot yet and until we secure that spot, we need to do everything that we can to get as many points as we can.”

That’s not to say the Kings are looking at anything beyond qualification. They’re not looking beyond Wednesday. The quotes in this article show that. Our conversation, however, should probably change at this point in time. In a week, we could be running this back. Or doubling down. But the only race that’s important right now is qualification.

And look, the Kings still sit in a pole position to achieve that feat. They have a game in hand on the Blues and they’ll play all eight of their remaining games within the state of California. Six of those games will be at home, one in San Jose and one in Anaheim. But still, the team’s performance of late hasn’t vaulted them where they’ve wanted it to. This roadtrip had the potential to be defining, but the position the Kings have put themselves in is a dogfight to the finish here in April.

The schedule sets up well in a few different ways, but games tomorrow and Thursday will be a heck of a lot trickier than they might look on paper. Today is less an off day and more a recovery day. A four-hour flight home from Winnipeg with a late arrival into Los Angeles. The clock read 2:30 AM, which is 4:30 Central time, when players departed from the airport and later yet when they finally got to sleep. A player once told me that games like that are harder than a back-to-back on the body, when you don’t get both a recovery day and a practice day after a long flight home. The Kings will get one of those back-to-backs too though, when they fly to San Jose immediately after the Seattle game to visit the Sharks the next night. Feels more like the final two games of a six-game trip and one game just happens to be at home. For a team that needs to value each and every game, the opponent doesn’t really matter right now. The schedule, travel or circumstances can’t be an excuse. Kings have to handle their business, beginning tomorrow night against the Kraken, because it’s about wins and losses to win the race for a playoff spot.

Win the next game in front and move along.

“At this time of the year, it’s one game by one game,” forward Blake Lizotte said. “There is momentum for sure, when you win games, but I think when you look at the standings, points are just so invaluable right now that any win is huge.”

The other side of where the Kings are at is not to overreact to the trip that just finished.

Going away for nine days and coming away with just two points is obviously really disappointing. Not what they set out to do. It’s not time to push the panic button, though. The game in Calgary was the one the Kings will really regret, but losses in Edmonton and Winnipeg were winnable games, with various reasons as to why they didn’t get the result. Now, it’s about objective number one, which was always to secure a playoff spot. The Kings have eight games in which to do that, fully in control of their destiny throughout that process. Remaining in control is contingent upon winning hockey games. In doing so, the Kings will reach the postseason and if they do so regularly enough, they’ll build some momentum in the process.

“The points are really important, and also making sure that we’re trending in the right direction going towards the playoffs,” forward Trevor Moore added. “We want to win as many games as possible and get as many points as possible.”

Beginning tomorrow evening, the Kings will play six more games on home ice, a place that’s felt a lot more like home ice since the NHL All-Star break. 9-2-1 to be exact at Crypto.com Arena. As the points become that much more important, taking care of business on home ice will be paramount. In some ways, it feels like 2021-22, when the Kings ended the season with a stretch of six games to qualify for the playoffs, all coming against teams out of the race. They won the first four, including all three played at home, before officially clinching their place in the field of 16.

Another stretch of getting the job done at home is what is needed.

“Every single night, it’s got to be two points for us,” defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov added. “Home ice is going to help, the crowd is going to cheer for us, so that’s huge. We haven’t played at home in awhile and that’s going to help us for sure.”

Kings versus Kraken tomorrow, which is the Kings game in hand over the Blues. Thursday features the Kings at the Sharks and the Blues at Nashville. Six games left for both clubs after Thursday, with exactly two weeks left to play. That’s reality right now. Get into the dance, see who your partner is and take it from there, because without a partner, it’s a pretty lonely dance to be at.

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