With 2 Games Left, Playoff Destinations Coming Into Focus + Notes on Kopitar, Grundstrom, Wright, Reign

Two games left and the picture is beginning to come into focus.

Last night’s combination of results gave the Kings a pretty good sense of direction heading into the final two games of the season. A Kings victory over Anaheim, combined with a Vancouver win over Edmonton and all of a sudden, all roads seemingly lead back to Edmonton. The trilogy is in sight, but not a certainty.

It’s not a certainty, but that’s definitely what the numbers are telling us. Per PlayoffStatus.com, the Kings have a greater than three-quarters chance of facing the Oilers in the first round of the playoffs, in the ever-so-familiar 2/3 matchup in the Pacific Division. Depending on the result of this afternoon’s Vegas – Colorado showdown, the Kings could have a clinching scenario for the third seed in the Pacific Division as soon as tomorrow night, when they host Minnesota. A Vegas loss of any kind combined with a Kings win on Monday and the Kings would be locked into third in the Pacific, with the Oilers very likely to finish second, barring a stunning conclusion to the season.

That’s for us to talk about, though.

For the Kings, they’re not all that concerned with the notion of seeding, opponent or matchup.

“I don’t think it really, technically matters in the playoffs, to be honest,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “Either way, we’re not getting home-ice advantage in the first round, so for us, I don’t think it really matters. If you’re playing for home-ice advantage, you’d rather have that no doubt, but we’re just trying to play for that third spot.”

Doughty added that the Kings have no idea who they’re going to play, so they’re just going out there to try and win games and finish as highly in the standings as they can. Really all a team can do in that situation.

Goaltender Cam Talbot pretty much echoed what Doughty said.

“I think just getting to our game for Game 1, seeding right now is what it is, home ice would have been nice but that’s out of the cards,” Talbot said. “Other than that, it doesn’t matter where we play, we’re going to start on the road.”

As the picture comes into focus, I am sure that the line of questioning will change, when opponents become certain and matchups become solidified. For now though, the Kings know where they’re at and with that comes an acknowledgement that Game 1 will be on the road. From there, it’s really outside of anyone’s control.

“I think every team is really good, so we’re ready for just about anybody,” defenseman Matt Roy said. “We know we’re going to be on the road, so it is what it is and we’re ready to get going.”

This is also a team with a number of players who have found playoff success with a low seed.

No need to explain to anyone what that means from an LA Kings perspective, but others in the room have gone through similar paths. Viktor Arvidsson was a part of the 2017 Nashville Predators squad that was the last team into the postseason, with a playoff-low total of 94 points. Three fewer than the Kings have now. That Nashville team reached the Stanley Cup Final, two wins shy of winning it all.

In his eyes, it’s more about the team than the seed.

“I don’t think seeding matters in the playoffs, if I’m being honest,” Arvidsson said. “In Nashville, we were the last team in, the last game of the season, and we went to the final, so I don’t think it matters. It depends on the group and how you tackle the games going forward.”

For the Kings right now, they’re doing their best to build momentum over these final couple of games to hit the playoffs in stride.

Last night was a win, even if not a complete, 60-minute effort, it was a win nonetheless.

The start certainly did not have playoff intensity, but the Kings seemed to settle in as the game went on, delivering a stronger performance over the final 40 minutes. Jim Hiller said after the game that the Kings simply want to leave these games feeling good about the way the team played. They want to play well, ideally finding wins, but they want to continue to grow and continue to build.

That’s the focus in the room as well. It’s not about the standings or the seeding, it’s about getting their game in order.

“We can’t really control anything like [seeding], we can control how we play and what we do,” forward Pierre-Luc Dubois said. “It’s not a switch you can turn on, it’s how you play towards the end of the year and you build your game as the playoffs start. Everybody knows what we have to do to win and I think we’re building towards that.”

Two more hockey games to find that groove. Don’t want to be digging out of any sort of hole heading into Game 1. Start building, ride a bit higher and try to carry that into the postseason.

For today, the Kings hit the ice for a short practice day at Toyota Sports Performance Center. Same alignment as we saw last night against Anaheim.

In terms of updates……

– Forward Anze Kopitar was not on the ice again today, after missing last night’s game against Anaheim. Kopitar is currently day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. Jim Hiller shared last night it was something “nagging”, which isn’t all that surprising at this time of the season. If last night was Game 1 of the playoffs, it certainly sounded like Kopitar would have been in the lineup. It wasn’t, though, so he had the opportunity to get a night off and manage his body. Bumps and bruises at this time of the year are present and can be managed, with the Kings now secure in their playoff fate.

– Regarding forward Carl Grundstrom, he skated in his first AHL game last night with the AHL’s Ontario Reign, after he was assigned on a conditioning loan earlier in the day. Grundstrom made an immediate impact in the Reign’s 5-4 win over Henderson, as he opened the scoring in the first period and finished the night with two points (1-1-2), a +1 rating and three shots on goal. Early reports given to Jim Hiller were positive in Grundstrom’s first game back in action since mid-February, when he sustained a lower-body injury against the Buffalo Sabres.

“He played really well, by all intents, and that’s not surprising, even though he’s been off for so long,” Hiller said this morning. “He’s got himself in good condition, that’s the type of player he is, so I knew it would probably be a pretty easy transition for him.”

– Congratulations are also in order for Kings prospect Jared Wright, who won an NCAA National Championship last night with Denver University.

Wright scored the game-winning goal with one heck of a shot, as the Pioneers defeated Boston College in the championship game. Sharp angle, short-side snipe, held up throughout the entirety of the game.

For Wright, he recently completed his sophomore season at Denver, establishing himself as a top-nine forward, averaging greater than a half-point per game on a very deep squad. He’s grown over his time in the program and should be in line for a larger role next season. Strong skater, a player the Kings liked with a late-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, when he was selected in the sixth round. Great second collegiate season, excited to chat with him down the line on his growth throughout the course of the season.

– While the Kings are destined to start on the road, the AHL’s Ontario Reign locked up home-ice advantage in Round 1 last night with a 5-4 win over Henderson.

The playoff race in the Pacific Division is actually pretty crazy. The seven teams that will compete are locked in and have been for some time. Who will play who, though, is up in the air. The AHL has an interesting structure in that division. The Pacific has 10 teams, 7 of which qualify for a five-round postseason. The first round is best-of-three, with teams 2-7 competing, all in the city of the better-seeded team. The winners advance to a best-of-five second round, along with the division-winning Coachella Valley Firebirds, who will receive a bye to that point.

Ontario is currently tied with Tucson for the second seed, which would also represent home-ice advantage in a potential Round 2. Both have three games remaining. The Reign will play Bakersfield and Colorado twice, all away, while Tucson will visit Coachella Valley and host San Jose twice. Four different first-round opponents are still in play for Ontario. Will be a fun final week to follow, heading into the postseason.

Per the Reign, Game 1 will be on Wednesday, April 24 at Toyota Arena, regardless of the team’s opponent.

That’s all for today, Insiders.

Kings practiced for right around 40 minutes. Not a physical practice, but a more technical skate, focusing on a few targeted areas of the game, without taxing the squad all that much the day before a game. Tomorrow will be an optional morning skate and it could be quite optional, with a 6:30 PM puck drop against Minnesota for the final nationally televised game of the season.

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