NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Los Angeles Kings have found quite a rhythm on the road, and coach Terry Murray hopes they won’t skip a beat now that they’re heading back West for a five-game homestand.
Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown each had a goal and an assist, and the Kings beat the Nashville Predators 4-2 Tuesday night to wrap up the franchise’s first sweep of a four-game road trip. They had come so close before, going 3-0-1 in 1980-81 and 3-0-0-1 in 2003-04.
As tight as the Western Conference is this season, Murray likes the Kings’ timing.
“These were all very big games, very meaningful for everybody,” Murray said. “To win four in a row like this at this time of the year, it’s big digging by everybody. Everybody came into this road trip with a playoff mentality and did the right things … Now we’ve got to make sure we’re bringing this attitude back and do the same things at the Staples Center.”
Alec Martinez and Wayne Simmonds also had goals as the Kings won the season series with Nashville 3-1. Brown sealed the victory with an empty-netter with 62 seconds left.
Kopitar said the Kings weren’t ready to just hurry up and head home with this game.
“Obviously, to pull out 4-0 right now, it doesn’t happen very often. We approach it just like the playoffs. It is the playoffs for us. The playoffs are at stake, and you have to play to your potential every night. I think this is what we showed throughout these four games.”
Jonathon Blum and J.P. Dumont each scored for Nashville.
The Predators came in trailing fifth-place Los Angeles by only three points in the West, but they snapped a two-game winning streak and missed out on a chance to move from ninth into one of the top eight spots.
“Every game is the most important game right now,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “We’re still in a pretty good position. Obviously as a team we want to get points or limit their points … If things fall correctly, we’re exactly where we might be starting today with just one less game.”
Nashville outshot the Kings 32-18 but couldn’t beat Jonathan Bernier, who has been in net in all four games this season against the Predators. They took 10 of the game’s first 11 shots, and Bernier stopped every one, including back-to-back attempts by rookie Blake Geoffrion and Mike Fisher.
“Bernier played very well,” Murray said of his backup goalie. “They’ve got some guys in the back that are big shooters. They got traffic at the net. He worked hard to find the puck. He was really on top of the crease square and really absorbed a lot of those pucks. A strong game.”
Bernier said his play against Nashville is all mental.
“Nashville is the type of team that gives me a lot of action and keeps me in the game,” Bernier said.
Los Angeles took advantage of a faceoff to goalie Pekka Rinne’s left. Dustin Penner got the puck along the boards and passed it back to Kopitar, who wristed it past Rinne with 6:29 left in the first for the 1-0 lead.
That quieted the fans—and not even a big check by Jordin Tootoo could stir them.
The Predators tied it off a faceoff in their offensive zone, and Blum scored his second this season on a slap shot at the blue line with 2:31 to go to revive the crowd. Captain Shea Weber did his part, too, in the final seconds, sending Kings left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky into the boards with a crushing hit.
Nashville turnovers helped Los Angeles score twice in the second period and take control of the game. A turnover by the Predators in their offensive zone started a 3-on-2 breakaway, and Brown found Martinez with a cross-ice pass that he wristed past Rinne at 2:16 of the second for a quick 2-1 lead.
Ponikarovsky later collected the puck near the blue line, keeping it inside the Kings’ zone and getting it to Kopitar, who passed it cross-ice. Simmonds took it and sent a one-timer from the left circle between Rinne’s stick and the post with just under eight minutes left in the period.
“We just weren’t able to find the back of the net,” Trotz said. “Bernier, I thought, made some big saves when it was 3-1. Had a couple flurries there where we had a couple good chances.”
Nashville finally got the puck past Bernier with 7:17 to go in the game when Dumont, a healthy scratch the past two games, redirected Cody Franson’s shot. He got a call just as he arrived at the rink that he would play for Joel Ward, a scratch with a lower-body injury.
“It’s too bad we lost the game tonight, but I’ve got to keep myself ready for a situation like that,” Dumont said.
Brown’s empty-netter finished off the win, and the Kings narrowly missed a second when the puck bounced off the right post just before the buzzer.
Notes: Kopitar set the franchise record by playing in his 325th consecutive game, topping the mark previously set by Marcel Dionne at 325 between 1978 and 1982. Kopitar’s streak started March 21, 2007, in his rookie season. … Kopitar now has points in five straight games (five goals, four assists). … Ward had just matched his career high with three goals in the previous three games. … Los Angeles improved to 33-7-2 when scoring three or more goals and 32-6-2 when allowing two or fewer goals.