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Focused on playoff push, Kings face suddenly hot Blackhawks

Mar 13, 2024; St. Louis, Missouri, USA;  Los Angeles Kings right wing Adrian Kempe (9) celebrates with defenseman Drew Doughty (8) after scoring against the St. Louis Blues during the third period at Enterprise Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Kings’ identity “is to play well defensively and break them down,” according to defenseman Jordan Spence.

That’s been a difficult proposition lately, but the Kings still are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt entering Friday’s visit to the suddenly potent Chicago Blackhawks.

Los Angeles opened a three-game road trip with Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues, its second defeat in three games. The Kings surrendered the first three goals before Adrian Kempe scored with 6:52 remaining in the game.

The Kings remained at 77 points as they tussle with the Vegas Golden Knights for postseason positioning.

“That was disappointing because we thought we came out ready to play,” Los Angeles interim head coach Jim Hiller said. “We were in and around (the St. Louis) net. I don’t know how much we tested them, but we were around, pucks were just kind of rolling past. We felt we’re going pretty good.”

At long last, the feeling is mutual for the Blackhawks, who have won three of four to reach 41 points and vacate the NHL basement.

Chicago opened its current four-game homestand with barrages against the Arizona Coyotes (7-4) and Anaheim Ducks (7-2). It’s the first time since November 1992 that the Blackhawks have scored seven goals in consecutive games.

Rookie Connor Bedard, the top pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, fueled the victory over Anaheim with a goal and four assists. The five-point effort matched the club rookie record first set by Kenny Wharram in 1954.

Bedard has eight points in his past two games and 11 points in six games in March.

“It’s funny,” Bedard said. “I had eight games straight without a goal, and then you have a couple of big ones and people kind of forget about that.”

What’s also booming is Bedard’s chemistry with linemate Philipp Kurashev, who had two goals and two assists against the Ducks.

“I’m just trying to give him the puck,” Bedard said. “He’s so good at getting himself open when someone else has it. I love playing with him.”

The Kings have played with an 11-forward, seven-defenseman alignment for the past two games, which occasionally allows Spence to assume more of an attacking role.

“It’s good,” Spence said. “A lot of guys play with different partners, but at the end of the day, we’re all good players and we can read each other on the ice. We’re trying to do the best we can to contribute and do our job. Obviously, if things are going well, we’re going to keep it going and if things aren’t, Jimmy’s good at just shuffling the lines and going game by game with that.”

Chicago and Los Angeles will meet three times over the final month-plus of the regular season. The Blackhawks are set to visit the Kings on Tuesday before the clubs conclude the regular season in Los Angeles on April 18.

Tyler Johnson has scored in three straight games for the Blackhawks. The Kings’ Drew Doughty has registered an assist in four straight.

–Field Level Media

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