California Dreaming (on such a winter's day); Tampa Bay Lightning at Los Angeles Kings preview

A late winter grips the nation... just not southern California, or the LA Kings for that matter, the Bolts opponent tonight.

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 10:30 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Jewels from the Crown, The Royal Half, Mayors Manor

This is the one time of year, a brief window in Florida every February, where the opening verse to the Mamas and the Papas classic "California Dreaming" seem applicable:

All the leaves are brown,
And the sky is gray

Okay, excluding the gray-sky part; that comes tomorrow with the next cold front passing through. Trees are shedding their leaves, and they’re scattered in the breeze. That cold front I mentioned will be a blizzard for points to the north; another winter’s day for the nation to lament.

For the Tampa Bay Lightning, there is no need to lament though. Los Angeles high temperature today was expected to be 77 degrees. Much like Tampa Bay on a day-to-day basis, it’s a reason for jealousy for the northeast during the winter. It’s also a clear reason why there’s "California Dreaming" going on in that pop classic tune.

While much of North America battles snow and ice, the Kings and the Bolts are hunkered down with playoff seeding battles. LA is on the outside, looking in with other Western Conference teams such as the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars; the Kings and the Wild especially are within striking distance of a wild card slot – it takes only 65 points at this moment, three more points than the Kings currently have.

It gives weight to getting a win at home tonight over Tampa Bay, who are jockeying between leading the division and being a runner-up. A playoff berth is inevitable unless the Bolts tank from this point forward (which is more than very unlikely). At the moment, the club is 2nd in the division and 2 points in front of Detroit while 2 points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the division lead. Les Habs and the Red Wings both have games in-hand on the Lightning…. It makes every game more of a must-win for Tampa Bay, because they’ve got fewer opportunities to gain a lead in the division as well as few head-to-head chances to hurt Montreal or Detroit.

That’s the standings though. That’s not the game. Tonight’s a rematch of a contest played 9 days ago in Tampa where Ben Bishop got chased and the Bolts ultimately got toasted.

Andrei Vasilevskiy will start between the pipes for the Lightning. It was also an optional skate this morning at Staples Center with 13 players participating, including the injured Matthew Carle. He won’t be back any time soon, he’s with the team on the trip however and working out.

Who you likely can expect back in the Tampa Bay lineup tonight are forward Brendan Morrow and defenseman Mark Barberio – at least if head coach Jon Cooper decides to make sure rested bodies get into the lineup. Both were scratched yesterday in San Jose.

The Kings are on a four game winning streak at the moment… which started at the Amalie with their victory over the Bolts. Tyler Tofoli is part of the reasoning the Kings are winning; he was named the second star of the week by the NHL. That Jonathan Quick guy in goal isn’t bad either. He’ll start in net for the Kings.

Other Game Coverage:

· Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview

· Full coverage on SB Nation

· Live stream of Tampa Bay Lightning coverage on Twitter