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Blackhawks vs. Kings preview: Playoff positioning at stake

The Blackhawks and Kings are set to go head to head again on Monday night, but both teams wish they were in a better position in regards to the post season.

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After a Jonathan Toews goal with just over 30 seconds left earned them a 4-3 win in Winnipeg on Sunday night, the Blackhawks get right back to work tonight, as they'll welcome the Los Angeles Kings to the United Center. These two teams have become one of the premiere must-see matchups in the NHL in recent years, with the last three Stanley Cups being won by these two, and two consecutive 'Hawks-Kings Western Conference Finals matchups.

Many experts, writers, bloggers, and fans picked these two teams to make it back to the conference finals again this year as well, but recent events have brought some doubt into the situation. The Blackhawks have been struggling mightily of late, often being out-possessed by opponents, and currently holding just a one point lead for third place in the Central. Even in last night's win, they looked bad for most of the game, finally getting going with about 10 minutes left in the third period and essentially stealing a win. More play like those last 10 minutes would certainly be a welcome site for the sore eyes of Blackhawks fans.

The Kings, meanwhile, are currently one point out of third place in the Pacific Division, and two points out of a wild card spot. They're ending a five-game road trip tonight, looking to earn their fourth win on the trip after starting it out with key wins over the Devils, Rangers, and Islanders. They lost to the Wild, 4-1, on Saturday.

The Blackhawks did not have a team skate this morning, so what the lines may look like is still a mystery. Tonight could see the NHL debuts of Kyle Baun and/or Michael Paliotta, both of whom signed entry level deals with the 'Hawks last week. Although, with this game being against the Kings, and such huge points being on the line, it might not be the best time for Q to mess with the lineup too much after last night's win.

Both of these teams still have the Stanley Cup on their minds, and both still have a great shot at contending for it come playoff time. But it'd be a bit easier to do for Chicago if they could over take St. Louis, and for the Kings if they were actually, well, in the playoffs. With both teams needing these points in order to better position themselves for any sort of playoff run, this game is sure to be a good one.

Opponent Breakdown: Los Angeles Kings

As mentioned before, the Kings are putting an end to a five-game road trip tonight. They've been led by their elite center Anze Kopitar, who leads the team with 60 points in 72 games, including 44 assists, which has him tied for 10th in the NHL. His 16 goals is a bit underwhelming, especially given that it's the second lowest total of his career, but he's still found ways to contribute and play well for this team that has struggled a bit throughout the season.

While the Kings do currently sit outside the playoffs, their schedule gets a lot easier after tonight. In their final six contests, the Kings will play just two teams that currently occupy playoff positions, those being the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames, who the Kings trail by 3 points and 1 point, respectively. Their other matchups include two games against the Oilers, one against the Avalanche, and one against the Sharks. Call me crazy, but I feel like the Kings are gonna make the playoffs, guys. It's entirely possible they'll even work their way to second place in the Pacific, as well.

The 'Hawks and Kings split their two earlier matchups this season, both in LA, with Chicago taking a 4-1 win over the Kings in November, and the Kings getting revenge with a 4-3 win in late January.

Injuries

Blackhawks: Patrick Kane (collarbone), Joakim Nordstrom (upper body), Daniel Carcillo (upper body)

Kings: Tanner Pearson (leg), Jarret Stoll (upper body)

Game information

When: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: United Center

TV: NBCSN

Radio: WGN-720

For Chicago Blackhawks tickets, check out Ticketmaster. Follow Second City Hockey on Twitter at @2ndCityHockeyand Like us on Facebook. You can follow Adam Hess on Twitter at @FeathersInDaHat.