Kings-Canucks matchup expected to be like a playoff game

Rivalry is revived with Vancouver holding second place in Pacific Division, three points ahead of the Kings

There are, most assuredly, few secrets when it comes to the Kings and the Canucks.

Kings center Anze Kopitar gave a look of understanding when that concept was broached following their 3-1 victory over Colorado on Saturday night at Staples Center.

After all, Kopitar has been playing against Vancouver for a long time — his first game against them was in the 2006-07 season. That was long before the Canucks were their chief rivals and the time it really started to heat up (see 2012).

"We know them," Kopitar said. "They know us. It'll be a big game for them and us. It'll be a good one for sure."

The Kings-Vancouver rivalry dimmed a bit as the Canucks receded during the brief but costly John Tortorella era. Now, in some ways, the Canucks can be considered one of the surprise stories in the Western Conference.

They are holding second place in the Pacific Division, leading the third-place Calgary Flames by two points and the Kings by three. With three games remaining, the Canucks have 95 points, which includes 45 wins. They finished last season with 83 points, placing 12th in the Western Conference.

Meet the new rivals, the same as the old rivals.

"If any game is like a playoff game, it's going to be tomorrow night," Canucks rookie center Bo Horvat told reporters at practice Sunday. "It's going to be exciting and a battle. The last game we played there was probably one of the most fun games I played all year.

"The back and forth and the big goals. It was really cool."

The Kings lost to the Canucks, 4-1, on March 21 at Staples Center, which was their first loss to the Canucks in four games this season. They had outscored Vancouver, 12-3, in the other three contests.

Said Kings defenseman Alec Martinez: "We've had a couple of really tight games with them. They play really well in their own building. It's a revved-up, high-energy environment. We've got to play a good road game."

Martinez scored the winner against the Avalanche on Saturday in the second period, a bit of a nervous game for the Kings and their fans. It also happened to be his first game-winning goal of the season.

Although the Kings dominated and outshot Colorado, 26-10, it remained a one-goal game until Marian Gaborik scored at 18:04 of the third period.

For Martinez, it was his first goal since Jan. 17, but that is somewhat misleading because he missed more than a month, in fact, 18 games because of a concussion. He returned for the start of the Kings' five-game trip March 23) against the New York-area teams.

Martinez was a minus-three against Chicago on Monday, a plus-one versus Edmonton on Thursday and a plus-one against the Avalanche.

"I'm feeling better every game," he said. "There's certain things you just can't really work on other than in a game. It's like at the beginning of the season, preseason, you can't replicate that game situation until you're in a game.

"Regardless of how much you practice. As a D-man, if there's a guy barreling down on you … if it's in practice, we're going to play hard and make each other better.

"But at the end of the day, I don't think Kyle Clifford is going to try to put me in the first row at practice."

TONIGHT

At Vancouver

When: 7 p.m.

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 790

Etc.: Canucks goalie Eddie Lack and defenseman Luca Sbisa both took a maintenance day but are expected to be in the lineup against the Kings.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

Twitter: @reallisa

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
72°