The unlikely rivalry between the LA Kings and Wild could get even more heated with winning streaks on the line Friday night.
Are we having fun yet?
Going into this Friday night’s contest with the Minnesota Wild, the LA Kings are riding a six-game winning streak. On the other side, the Wild are entering this game with a four-game winning streak of their own. With ties not an option in today’s NHL, someone will have a streak broken.
To add to the drama, the two teams find themselves sudden bitter rivals, thanks in part to the division-only play this season. They faced each other in a two-game series to start this season at the Staples Center, which would see the Wild prevail in both games in overtime.
To add salt to the wound, the Kings held a two-goal lead in the third period in both games. Although they earned one point in each game, the LA Kings did not start their season the way they wanted.
The next time these two teams would face each other would be in the Land Of 10,000 Lakes. The Kings would avenge their earlier defeats by winning the first game on the two-game set by a 2-1 score.
The second game played on January 28 would prove to be disastrous for the silver and black. Not only did they lose the game 5-3, but they would also lose defensemen Matt Roy and Sean Walker to injuries which would see both men miss multiple weeks. The injuries to Roy and Walker would add to what was beginning to look like a dire situation for the Kings.
Out of the darkness and into the light, what a difference a couple of weeks can make. After losing 4-3 via the shootout to their archrival, the San Jose Sharks, on February 9, the LA Kings have been unstoppable.
The return of players like Roy, Walker, Andreas Athanasiou, and Blake Lizotte has certainly helped, but the fact is the entire team has stepped up. Especially noticeable have been Carl Grundstrom, Trevor Moore, Jaret Anderson-Dolan (before he was injured), and the resurgent Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty.
Olli Maatta finally seems comfortable, and a case could be made to nickname goaltenders Calvin Petersen and Jonathan Quick “the brick brothers” – as in a brick wall. During this six-game win streak, the ability to roll four lines and the execution of coach Todd McLellan’s systems have been a hallmark of the team’s success.
The Minnesota Wild have also had to deal with missing key players. Winger Mats Zuccarello has played only five games, while center Marcus Johansson has missed five games. Left-wing Kevin Fiala missed three games due to a suspension for his hit on the LA Kings Matt Roy on January 28, but the injury bug has really bitten the Wild goaltending especially hard.
After letting long-time starter Devan Dubnyk go in free agency, it was assumed Alex Stalock would take over in the net. He was injured long term before the season even started. Cam Talbot was brought in to replace Stalock, but he has played only six games due to injury. Fortunately for the Wild young Kaapo Kahkonen has taken over and stabilized the goaltending position for coach Dean Evason’s team.
Despite all of this, the Minnesota Wild are riding a four-game winning streak of their own. They now find themselves one point out of the fourth playoff spot in the West Division and have at least two games in hand for now on three of the four teams ahead of them. Who was the last team to beat them? The LA Kings, by a score of 4-0 on February 16.
On Friday night, the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota will be the site of the next game in a suddenly red hot rivalry. Both teams have freight train-like momentum, and both are eyeing a coveted playoff spot. With bad blood already between these teams, the specter of being in each other’s playoffs paths only adds to it. Buckle up, folks. It’s about to get intense.