(Sports Network) - An excellent road trip has helped the Kings get back into the playoff mix in the Western Conference. Some recent struggles by the Wild have helped as well. Los Angeles returns to the Staples Center for the first time in nearly a month to wrap its season series with Minnesota while also looking for some separation from the club in the tight standings.
The Kings began a 10-game road trip back on Feb. 1 with a shootout loss to the Wild. It was the first of 15 points Los Angeles would earn on the epic swing thanks to a 6-1-3 record. That helped the club vault into a tie with three other clubs -- including Minnesota -- for the final four playoff spots in the West.
Also just five points back of first-place in the Pacific Division, the Kings got a rare goal from defenseman Willie Mitchell -- just his second of the season -- in the third period of Wednesday's 3-2 win over the Ducks. Usual suspects Ryan Smyth and Anze Kopitar also scored, while Jonathan Quick made 25 saves.
"It's been a great road trip. That's 15 points out of a possible 20 -- that's a nice road trip," Kings head coach Terry Murray said. "It's important that we keep our focus on how that happened. The hard work, the intensity, the concentration every game to bring it ... to bring it every day and do things right. Now we have to do the same thing [Thursday] at home."
Los Angeles will host its next six games at the Staples Center, where it last played on Jan. 26, and will try to avoid a repeat of an earlier eight-game homestand that put the club in a hole. The Kings went just 2-6 on that residency that ran from Dec. 30-Jan. 15. The Wild aim for a third straight victory over the Kings and are coming off Tuesday's 4-1 home triumph over the Oilers. Minnesota scored three times in the third period of that victory, including Jared Spurgeon's first career tally.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard also scored in the final frame to go along with two assists, while Kyle Brodziak and Martin Havlat scored. Niklas Backstrom made 20 saves for the Wild, who won their 15th straight game over the Oilers and had lost three of four overall coming in.
"Tonight was a big game for us -- I mean they're all big," said Bouchard. "We didn't start the way we wanted and we stuck together in the third, made good plays and got a win." The Wild, who will also play in Anaheim on Friday, will be without three regulars tonight. Mikko Koivu missed his second straight game on Tuesday and is out indefinitely, while Cam Barker suffered an upper-body injury versus Edmonton and did not travel with the club. Brodziak also stayed behind due to illness.
Backstrom stopped all 27 shots faced in the 1-0 shootout win over the Kings on Feb. 1 to improve to 5-3-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average and two shutouts lifetime versus the club. Bouchard had the lone goal of the tiebreaker.
It is unknown if Quick or Jonathan Bernier will start for the Kings, who are 1-0-2 versus the Wild this year and have won seven of the past 11 meetings overall. Quick is 6-2-1 with a 2.51 GAA versus the club, while Bernier halted all 25 shots faced through overtime in the Feb. 1 loss. Minnesota claimed a 3-2 overtime win at Los Angeles on Dec. 11 for its second straight victory in the City of Angels.
For more news on tonight's game, be sure to read Jewels From The Crown.