Kings set for crucial matchup vs. Blues

Monday’s game is a big one for both the Kings and St. Louis Blues, who are separated by just three points in the race for the Western Conference’s final postseason berth with 15 games to play.

But Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, who has taken three teams to the Stanley Cup finals, said his team still has a lot to prove before he can consider it playoff worthy.

“We’re trying to be a good middle-of-the-pack team, which is what our realistic expectations were coming into the year, instead of saying, ‘This is what we are, this is what we [aren’t],’ ” he said after Sunday’s short practice. “It’s a real fair evaluation of our group.”

Monday’s game, the last of the season between the Kings and Blues, is unlikely to change that evaluation much, no matter the result. But given the four-point swing at stake — the Kings can pull within a point of St. Louis with a victory but will drop five points back with a loss in regulation — the game could go a long way toward determining the team’s playoff chances.

But, Sutter cautioned, being honest isn’t the same as giving up. Especially since the Kings have won two in a row for the first time in five weeks and have earned points in six of their last seven games.

“[We’re] not folding our tents, not listening to outside criticism,” Sutter continued. “We’re trying to be honest with each other and our assessment of how we play and try and play that way.”

Making it count

Adrian Kempe’s first NHL goal came midway through the third period Saturday and gave the Kings the lead in a game they would go on to win, 4-2, over the Washington Capitals.

“I didn’t see it go in right away so I kept skating,” said Kempe, who was playing in his 11th NHL game. “Then I saw the crowd and the red light. It’s extra fun to score a really important goal in a tight game.”

Especially since his parents had flown in from Stockholm to see the game, according to Kings insider Jon Rosen.

Two of the Kings’ other three goals came on power plays, the last into an empty net. That gives the team nine goals with a man advantage in their last five games.

Etc.

Sunday’s skate was optional and several regulars chose the option to not participate. … The league has suspended Washington’s Kevin Shattenkirk two games for charging the Kings’ Kevin Gravel on Saturday.

NEXT UP

VS. ST. LOUIS

When: Monday, 7 p.m.

On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.

Update: The Blues (35-27-5) were already in possession of the conference’s second wild-card spot last month when they fired Ken Hitchcock, the second-winningest coach in franchise history, and promoted coach-in-waiting Mike Yeo. They’ve strengthened their position since then, going 11-6 and winning their last four under Yeo. Winger Vladimir Tarasenko has led that spurt with four goals and an assist in his last three games. He’s scored 10 of his team-high 32 goals since the coaching change. … Special teams could be important Monday night since the Blues have the best power player in the conference and the Kings have the second-best penalty kill.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: kbaxter11

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