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Can the Kings stay hot against stone-cold Colorado?

There was little time to savor the Kings’ biggest victory of the season before preparing for a flight to face the defending Stanley Cup champions Thursday in the Mile High City.

A massive 4-2 win over the first-place Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday was one of the most complete efforts of the campaign for the Kings. Now, they’ll square off with the Colorado Avalanche, who in addition to winning last year’s championship, have dominated the Kings in recent years.

The Avs have won their last nine meetings with the Kings by an aggregate score of 39-10, including three shutouts and three games with five or more goals scored by Colorado. Yet the Kings are on a roll, having earned wins in five of their last six games and points in all six. Meanwhile, the Avalanche’s title defense has been marred by the volume, severity and prominence of its injuries.

“They’re important games, they’re tough games. I can’t remember the last time we’ve won in Colorado. We’ll mention that to the group,” said Kings coach Todd McLellan, who also stressed that it was still only the middle of the season. “The gap there has tended to be pretty wide, but we’ll see if we’ve closed the gap a little bit.”

The Kings beat the Avs in Colorado Springs on Feb. 15, 2020, in a Stadium Series game, but haven’t won indoors in Denver since New Year’s Eve of 2018. However, hope springs eternal and, heading into the first meeting of 2022-23, the Kings have cause for optimism.

McLellan said solid goaltending, primarily from upstart Pheonix Copley, as well as improved “sticktoitiveness” have buoyed the Kings during their surge. On Tuesday, they led, found themselves tied just over a minute later, then trailed, knotted the score and ultimately dominated the third period. Over the course of 20 minutes, the defense denied entries and suffocated Vegas with its checking, while the offense scored the winning goal and added an empty-netter by Viktor Arvidsson.

Though the production was fueled by the trio of Arvidsson, Phillip Danault and Alex Iafallo, all 18 skaters maintained their intensity to secure a crucial four-point victory.

“It’s been there, even when we were wavering a little bit as a team, it was there, but it wasn’t there long enough. We couldn’t sustain it. We would give it back,” said McLellan, who added that he was never gloomy about the team’s performance this season. “Now we’re maintaining it a little bit longer. It’s growing by a minute or two every night. That’s a good sign for us.”

While the Kings have been a little nicked up of late – it appears they’ll be without Trevor Moore for a second consecutive game and Arthur Kaliyev, who’s missed the past three, landed on injured reserve Tuesday – they still have an opportunity to catch Colorado shorthanded.

Even more so than Vegas, who was missing three defensemen and two top-six forwards among others Tuesday, the Avs have been fettered by absences all season after unseating the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning in last year’s Stanley Cup Final. They lost significant players like Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky and Darcy Kuemper in free agency. Compounding matters, the Colorado training room has had the feel of a triage unit this season.

Top-line center Nathan MacKinnon compiled 34 points in 23 games but hasn’t played since Dec. 5 when he sustained an upper-body injury against the Philadelphia Flyers. Team captain Gabriel Landeskog has not suited up this season while recovering from his second knee surgery this year. Former Ducks defenseman Josh Manson, 2019 lottery pick Bowen Byram, hulking winger Valeri Nichushkin, veteran forward Darren Helm, backup goalie Pavel Francouz and 2018 first-rounder Martin Kaut are all among the players unavailable to the Avs presently.

While the Avs have not returned to the race for the Presidents’ Trophy, their .606 points percentage is actually a tick higher than the Kings’.605 mark. Colorado would possess the first wild-card berth in the West if the season were to end today, and the Kings would be seeded second in the Pacific Division.

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Colorado had won six of its past seven games prior to a 6-3 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday. The Avalanche has had to be resourceful and strike a defensive posture since its offense has plummeted from fourth in the NHL in goals per game last season to 25th this year.

Winger Mikko Rantanen and defenseman Cale Makar have continued to be prolific while team defense and the goaltending of newly acquired starter Alexandar Georgiev have kept their battered group afloat. Georgiev ranks in the top five in wins and save percentage among goalies with 15 or more appearances this season.

Kings at Colorado

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Ball Arena, Denver

TV/Radio: Bally Sports West/iHeart Radio

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