Mike Richards celebrates with teammates after scoring the game-winning… (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press )
Mike Richards has been through a playoff scramble before as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, who won a shootout on the final day of the 2009-10 season to qualify for postseason play. They then went on to the Stanley Cup finals, riding the momentum of their late run.
The Kings are in a better position than the Flyers were at this stage two years ago, but the principle could be the same.
The Kings can clinch a playoff spot Thursday night if they earn one point against San Jose on Thursday or if the Dallas Stars lose to the Nashville Predators in a game that starts at 5 p.m. Pacific time. But they can also still miss the playoffs through several scenarios, the most obvious being if they lose to San Jose on Thursday and again on Saturday and the Phoenix Coyotes get points out of their two remaining games.
Richards said that playing under extreme pressure the past few weeks could actually help the Kings as they try to clinch a spot and, possibly, win the Pacific division and the No. 3 seeding.
“It gets you ready for the playoffs. You’re playing playoff hockey for the last two or three weeks of the season, and when you get in you don’t have to worry about ramping things up or putting more focus on different areas,” he said after the team’s morning skate in El Segundo. “The regular season ramps up as it goes along and the playoffs are a whole new level. We’ve ramped it up in the last couple weeks and hopefully can continue on rolling.”
Richards said the atmosphere has become more charged as the end of the season has approached.
“There’s always excitement when you get around this time of year. It’s a different feeling, a good feeling. You feel it in the rink and in the dressing room, the energy,” he said. “You just get more excited to play these games, especially when you have an opportunity to play for what you’ve wanted to play for since you were 5 years old. I think that puts more emphasis on the games and you can feel the excitement and the energy from all the players.
“We still have some games to win and an opportunity we’ve worked hard to get to. We’ve had some ups and downs, as did every team in the league. And for us to play well the next two games and put ourselves in position to win the division is something that we’ve worked hard for and definitely gets us more excited to really finish it off strong.”
The Kings will be without forward Jeff Carter for the fourth straight game, while he recovers from a bruised ankle bone. He skated Thursday on his own but hasn’t resumed practicing with the team and is unlikely to play in the season finale at San Jose on Saturday. However, he said he expects to be ready for the Kings’ playoff opener — if there is one.
“I really don’t think that’s an issue. I should be good to go, the way it’s progressed over the last few days,” he said.
He also said the ankle has started to feel better, but he wanted to see how it feels Thursday night after the day’s exertion. “So it’s just kind of a wait-and-see thing,” he said.
Defenseman Slava Voynov, given a day off on Wednesday because Coach Darryl Sutter said he was “banged up,” participated in the morning skate and is expected to play Thursday. Sutter, though, wouldn’t say so outright.
“You’ve got to push these young guys, right? Tough schedule,” Sutter said.
Asked if that meant Voynov will return, Sutter wouldn’t commit. “You’ll see. I’m not going to lie to you and I’m not going to give any secrets either,” Sutter said.
Davis Drewiske, who temporarily took Voynov’s spot alongside Willie Mitchell in Wednesday’s practice, continued to keep himself ready in case he’s called upon.
“I get lot of extra work in on game days usually, so that helps. The assistant coaches do a good job of that,” he said. “And just stay positive and stay mentally connected.”
Although he hasn’t played in a while, he did get to enjoy a new experience this week as a guest DJ on KCRW-FM (89.9). He got to pick five songs that were significant to him, and he chose Elvis Presley, Three Dog Night, Bruce Springsteen, an L.A. band called Local Natives, and the Black Keys. “I tried to spread it out a little bit,” he said. “It was cool. I had a great time doing it.”
The 10-minute show is available streaming, for download and as a podcast at this link.
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