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Kings looking like a playoff team as they face back-to-back games next

The Kings will step into their first back-to-back set in a month having won their last four games and six of their previous seven, a surge that catapulted them to second place in the Pacific Division.

They will face the Sharks in San Jose on Monday and then host the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. The Kings held two one-goal leads in their match at Tampa Bay on Dec. 14 but ultimately fell in overtime.

Since then, the Kings have won eight of 11 games and they have not lost another game in which they have held a lead. They are 6-0-0 this season when leading at the first intermission, and 15-2-3 when leading after two periods. They’ve already held more leads through 40 minutes this season (20) than they did in all of last season (16).

“We’ve learned to shut down third periods and win the game that way, which is huge,” said defenseman Drew Doughty, adding that he felt the Kings were a playoff team.

The Kings’ 3-1 victory over the Seattle Kraken Saturday saw captain Anze Kopitar extend his point streak to three games in which he has five points, while his linemate Adrian Kempe stretched his string to four games with at least a point, including three goals. Kempe entered COVID protocols on Sunday, meaning the Kings could be without his services for the back-to-back as well as Thursday’s game against Colorado.

Against Seattle, forward Trevor Moore turned in his third straight multipoint outing and his fourth in his last six games, over which he had 11 points. He ranks sixth in the NHL in scoring since Jan. 1. Heading into the new year, Moore had seven points in 32 games.

Kings coach Todd McLellan said that Moore, who was an offensive star at the University of Denver, entered a Toronto Maple Leafs system crowded with offensive-minded players. Moore had to develop other areas of his game that would allow him to stick in a grittier, more detail-oriented role. Meshing his experience as a scoring threat with his stints in bottom-six roles has made Moore a dependable player with a comprehensive game since arriving in Los Angeles in 2020.

“We were aware of his college career; we knew that he was very capable there of playing in the top six and providing offense,” McLellan said. “But he always had a tenacity and he had the ability to play other areas of the game.”

He added: “Our players, to a man, have a ton of respect for Trevor, and they should, he earns it every night.”

Goalie Cal Petersen won his third straight decision since going over a month without making an appearance, having made 60 of 62 saves in 2022. He and Jonathan Quick will likely split the two-game set against San Jose and Tampa Bay.

The Kings have made a habit of stifling opposing stars. During their four-game winning streak, they have kept seven of the eight players who ranked in the top two in scoring on opposing teams off the scoresheet. Only Kris Letang of the Penguins managed to score on the Kings, an unusual goal from below the goal line. Meanwhile Pittsburgh’s future hall of fame centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held scoreless along with their leading scorer Jake Guentzel.

“You see the star players on other teams getting frustrated and yelling at us like, ‘What kind of system are you playing?’  We just eat that up, we love frustrating the other teams. I know from talking to players after we play them, it’s a hard night every time they come to play the L.A. Kings.”

Like the Kings and Ducks, San Jose has been part of a turnaround of California clubs. After being beacons of success and consistency in the 2010s, all three teams’ fan bases suffered through the past two seasons. This year, San Jose has clawed its way back into the playoff picture. If the season had ended on Saturday, all three franchises would have qualified for the postseason.

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