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One Point Will Secure Spot in Playoffs

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

With three games in three cities over the next four days, the Kings have not yet found their way into the playoffs.

But they’re wiping their feet on the mat, reaching for the door.

The helping hand they needed to clinch a playoff berth while they were idle the last two nights never materialized, so if they want to nail down a spot before midnight tonight, they’ll have to do it themselves.

A victory, tie or overtime loss against the Vancouver Canucks at General Motors Place will end the suspense, but the high-scoring Canucks are the league’s hottest team, with only two losses in their last 14 games.

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Mathematically, the Kings still could finish anywhere from second in the Western Conference, which would require at least five points in their last three games, to ninth, which would require a total collapse.

In the tightly bunched Western Conference race, seven points separate the San Jose Sharks, who stand second in the West after a 5-3 victory Wednesday night over the Columbus Blue Jackets, from the Canucks and Edmonton Oilers, tied for eighth after the Oilers’ 3-0 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.

With 93 points, the Kings are four behind the Sharks in the race for the Pacific Division championship, which would bring with it no lower than a No. 3 playoff seeding and home-ice advantage for at least the first round.

The teams play Saturday at San Jose in the Sharks’ season finale, by which time the Sharks could have sewn up the division title with a victory tonight over the St. Louis Blues, before the Kings wrap up their schedule Sunday against the Mighty Ducks at Staples Center.

The Kings, fifth in the West, also are only three points ahead of the Oilers and Canucks in the battle for the conference’s final playoff spot.

With one more point, the Kings could finish no worse than tied with the Oilers, who would lose out in a tiebreaker because the Kings won the season series.

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After Monday night’s 3-0 victory over the Dallas Stars, the Kings could have clinched a playoff berth Tuesday night if the Canucks had lost in regulation to the Colorado Avalanche, but the Canucks won, 2-1.

Similarly, a loss or tie by the Oilers on Wednesday night would have guaranteed the Kings a playoff spot, but the Oilers got a shutout from Tommy Salo.

“We didn’t expect any different,” King Coach Andy Murray said late Wednesday night. “We always anticipate that these other teams are going to win. You have to do it yourself. We want to win [tonight] and take care of our own business....

“It’s not easy, but nothing has come easy to us. We’ve had to go out and earn it every single night. It’ll be a battle, but we expect to get it done.”

Adam Mair, who had not dressed for five of the Kings’ last six games, was loaned to the club’s American Hockey League team at Manchester, N.H. The 22-year-old forward had one goal and one assist in 18 games with the Kings.

*

TONIGHT

At Vancouver, 7:30, Fox Sports Net2

Site--General Motors Place.

Radio--KSPN (1110).

Records--Kings 39-25-11-4, Canucks 40-30-7-3.

Record vs. Canucks--1-1-1.

Update--The Canucks are 11-2-1 since March 10 and unbeaten in their last seven games, among them a 4-0 victory over the Kings on March 26 at Vancouver and a 4-4 tie April 2 at Staples Center in which they overcame a two-goal deficit in the last 21/2 minutes. Goaltender Dan Cloutier is 10-2-1 during the surge.

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