November 24, 2014

Though they've locked up a playoff spot at their earliest point in 10 years, the Los Angeles Kings insist they still have plenty to play for over the final 11 games.

As Anze Kopitar looks continue his strong play, the surging Kings hope to take a step toward clinching their first division title in 25 years Monday night when they try to wrap up their first season sweep of the Nashville Predators.

A year after becoming only the eighth team in league history to miss the postseason after winning the Stanley Cup, Los Angeles (44-22-5) has been motivated to get back and make a run at its third title in five seasons.

Tanner Pearson and Alec Martinez had goals Saturday when the Kings took a first step toward that goal by securing a playoff berth with a 2-1 home win over Boston.

''The goal is to clinch a playoff spot as early as you can,'' said left wing Milan Lucic, who had an eight-game point streak end. "It's a great accomplishment. It's been a fun 71 games so far, and we've got to keep the foot on the gas pedal.''

Los Angeles will try to do just that with a chance to inch closer to only the second division crown in franchise history and its first since 1990-91. The club is also just two points behind Dallas in the race for the Western Conference's top seed.

Kopitar has played a leading role with six goals and 13 points over his last 10 games. The veteran center, who has 24 goals and a team-high 41 assists, did not play Feb. 20 when Pearson scored 1:18 into overtime to seal a 2-1 win at Nashville.

The Kings have totaled 26 goals over the past seven of a 11-2-1 stretch that began with that victory. Dustin Brown had a goal in three straight games before Saturday.

"Hopefully we keep playing that hard-nosed style of hockey, that playoff style of hockey,'' Lucic added. ''Everybody's trying to get as many points as they can, finish as high up in the standings as possible and sharpen up their game.''

The Predators have a solid hold on the West's top wild-card spot, but they hope to catch Chicago for third place in the Central Division. They certainly didn't help their chances with Friday's 4-1 loss at Washington that ended a two-game winning streak.

''Our heart was in the right place,'' coach Peter Laviolette said.

Filip Forsberg scored the only goal, while Shea Weber added his seventh assist in the past nine games and Roman Josi contributed his fourth in the last four.

Nashville (36-23-13) has totaled 18 goals over the past four of a 4-0-3 home stretch.

It could have a tough time continuing that trend with Jonathan Quick expected to start for Los Angeles. The All-Star is 10-3-2 with a .932 save percentage in his last 15 starts and stopped 64 of 68 shots to win both games in this season series.

Pekka Rinne has been equally good, going 9-1-2 with a .937 save percentage in his last 12 starts. Rinne, though, has an .876 mark over his last seven against the Kings.

Los Angeles had dropped five straight in this series before a 4-3 overtime home win Oct. 31. A third overtime matchup would favor the Kings, who have won 13 of 18 in such contests. Nashville has dropped 13 of 17 in extra time.

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