With the Pacific Division title and home-ice advantage hanging in the balance, the Los Angeles Kings have picked the wrong time to go into a late-season swoon.
A lack of consistent scoring has been partly to blame, though that hasn't been much of a problem over the Kings' past few meetings with the Vancouver Canucks.
Looking to take a big step toward its first division crown in 25 years, Los Angeles will try to avoid its fifth straight road loss and sixth in eight games overall Monday night.
The Kings owned a six-point lead in the Pacific on March 19 following a 6-0-1 stretch that began with a 5-1 home win over the Canucks. However, they've since fallen back into a neck-and-neck race with Anaheim and San Jose as a result of their current slump.
Los Angeles, which hasn't won a division title since 1990-91, was all but eliminated from the chase for the Western Conference's top seed on Saturday when it couldn't hold to a third-period lead in a 3-2 home loss to Central Division-best Dallas. The club has scored two goals or fewer in six of its last eight games after totaling 24 over its previous six.
"I hope it's not a lesson that we have to learn this late in the season, but hopefully it's a better late than never type of thing," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "All of these games now, and in a couple of weeks, they're going to be one-goal games, it's going to be tight."
The Kings hope to take advantage of a soft final stretch. They'll face Vancouver and Calgary on the road before returning to Staples Center for a showdown with the Ducks on Thursday, then close versus another eliminated club in Winnipeg.
Jeff Carter has totaled five goals and eight points over his last five games. He had two goals while Anze Kopitar added a goal and two assists in last month's win over Vancouver.
Carter did not play Dec. 28 when Tyler Toffoli finished with a hat trick and Kopitar had a career high-tying four assists in a 5-0 win at Vancouver (29-36-13). Kopitar has totaled two goals and six assists while helping the Kings (46-27-5) take three of the four meetings.
The Canucks ranked 23rd in the league with 2.86 goals allowed per game after getting outscored 28-8 over an 0-8-1 slide. However, they played better defensively while helping the Kings with a 4-2 win at San Jose on Thursday and a 3-2 victory at Anaheim on Friday.
''I think we just have to stick together as a team and play our hearts out the last couple games," said goalie Jacob Markstrom, who is expected to give way to Ryan Miller. "We have nothing to lose.''
Bo Horvat has provided a spark with a goal in each of the past two games, while Henrik Sedin has recorded an assist in both contests and three in this series with the Kings.
Vancouver, though, has totaled six goals over a five-game home skid. It looks to reverse that trend against Los Angeles, which has lost a season-high four straight road games.
Jonathan Quick has been dominant against the Canucks, going 9-3-1 with a 1.07 goals-against average to go along with a .959 save percentage over his last 13 meetings.