Kings (31-25 -12, 74 points) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (37-25-7, 81 points) at United Center, 5 p.m. PT
Five storylines to track:
1. Hope fading fast – The season and all its fluffy expectations would seem to be at a tipping point. The Kings are coming off two of their most frustrating losses in a most-frustrating season. Stomach punch No. 1 was a 3-1 loss Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, holders of the worst record in the NHL, followed immediately by uppercut No. 2, a 4-3 loss Friday night in Detroit, when they were five minutes away from a regulation victory. The Kings are now two points back of eighth-place Colorado in the Western Conference standings and it appears the Avs aren't coming back any time soon.
2. Prime example – Look no further than the Blackhawks for a prime example of just how quickly things can turn around for a slumping team. They went winless in nine straight games from Jan. 21 to Feb. 14, and were on the cusp of dropping out of the top eight in the Western Conference standings. The Blackhawks righted themselves just in time, however, and have since won eight of their last 12 to firmly reestablish themselves among the legitimate playoff contenders.
3. Invisible Mike – The honeymoon phase is long over for center Mike Richards. When he came to L.A. in a trade last summer with the Philadelphia Flyers, it seemed the Kings finally brought in someone who could lift them beyond the first round of the playoffs. Richards cemented those thoughts by totaling 11 goals and nine assists before the end of November. Everything went downhill after he missed eight games in December because of a concussion, leaving him a fraction of the offensive producer. Hard to imagine, but he has not scored a goal in the last 23 games and has one in 2012.
4. Quick slowing? – The good news is the Kings blanked Chicago in their last two meetings, both shutouts by goalie Jonathan Quick. And now the bad news. Quick is going through his worst stretch of the season and it's a troubling trend. For the first time this season, he has allowed four goals or more in back-to-back starts. His 2.60 goals-against average in the month of March is considerably higher than his 2.33 career average.
5. Toews still down – It looks like the Blackhawks will have to go another game without the services of high-scoring center Jonathan Toews, who scored 57 points in the first 59 games but has been out with concussion symptoms since Feb. 19. The team captain returned to practice Thursday but is still waiting to be cleared for contact. Chicago has been filling the gap with steady performances from its other stars. Marian Hossa has seven points in the last six games, Patrick Sharp has six in the last four and Patrick Kane has six in the last six.