LOS ANGELES – The Nashville Predators strengthened their playoff hopes and damaged the Los Angeles Kings’ chances of reaching the post-season.
Ryan Jones scored the go-ahead goal with 2:18 remaining, Steve Sullivan and Shea Weber also scored, and Joel Ward had a goal and an assist in the Predators’ 4-3 victory over the fading Kings on Monday night.
“We’ve got two games left on this road trip, and we’re trying to set ourselves up so that it doesn’t come down to Game 82 and all the pressure to try to get in with one game left,” Sullivan said.
With their eighth victory in 11 games, the Predators overtook Dallas and Edmonton in the Western Conference playoff race and moved into seventh place. They are a point ahead of the Stars, and lead the ninth-place Oilers by two with 12 games remaining. Dallas has a game in hand on Nashville, and Edmonton has two.
“We want to win every night, but our mentality right now is try and scrape points out of every game that we can and be as gritty as we can be,” Sullivan said. “Tonight was one of those games that puts us in a good position. We knew we had to win this game. We wanted to propel ourselves back into the playoffs and make sure we created some separation between us and them.”
Anze Kopitar, Teddy Purcell and Michal Handzus scored for the Kings, who have lost three straight.
Los Angeles will bring a six-game road losing streak into Boston on Thursday, starting a six-game trip that probably will decide their playoff chances. The 13th-place Kings are six points behind eighth-place Dallas with 13 games remaining.
On the winning goal, Predators defenceman Dan Hamhuis barely kept the puck inside the Kings blue-line before taking a slapshot that Jones tipped in the low slot. Erik Ersberg couldn’t control the rebound and went sprawling across the crease as Jones backhanded his seventh goal under Ersberg’s flailing arm.
“It was a good job by Dan Hamhuis,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “The puck was at Dan’s feet and he was trying to get it through. And Ryan Jones – what he does best around the crease area is finding those loose pucks.”
Sullivan put Nashville ahead 3-2 at 18:10 of the second period with his eighth goal. But Handzus got the equalizer with 10:07 left in regulation, whipping his 15th goal between Pekka Rinne’s pads.
“They have a really good goalie, and we managed to get three by him. But in the end, it wasn’t enough,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said. “We have to do a better job of keeping the puck out of our zone.”
The Predators, who came in with the NHL’s second-worst power-play percentage, took a 2-1 lead at 1:24 of the second during an advantage.
Ward was left unchecked at the left of the net when he got a cross-ice pass from J.P. Dumont and tucked his 12th goal between Ersberg’s outstretched leg and the post.
“We got away from our game,” Kopitar said. “We did a really good job of chipping the puck into their zone and getting the forecheck going, and we drew a lot of penalties off of that. But sometimes we get too fancy. They created turnovers and came right back into our zone.”
Purcell tied it at 16:25 of the second while Ville Koistinen was off for hooking Kyle Calder. Alexander Frolov got the puck from Purcell at the Nashville goal line to the left of the net and threw it toward the crease, where it hit Handzus before Purcell swept his fourth goal past Rinne’s stick.
After coming up empty on two power plays, the Kings opened the scoring at 14:42 of the first period with Kopitar’s 25th goal and sixth in eight games. Brown’s wrist shot from the top of the left circle hit the left post and caromed to the other side of the crease, where Kopitar banked the rebound off Rinne’s body.
Nashville tied it with 15 seconds left in the first period on Weber’s 19th goal.
Notes: The Predators began a stretch of six consecutive games against California teams. … Nashville scored more than two goals for only the second time in 18 road games (7-10-1). … The Predators’ previous three road wins came on shutouts. … Ersberg, who made 38 saves in Saturday’s 2-1 shootout loss at San Jose, started consecutive games for the first time since a three-game stretch Dec. 11-15. … The Predators have a chance to sweep the four-game season series on March 28 at Nashville. The Kings have never been swept by the Predators since Nashville entered the NHL in 1998-99. … Rinne, coming off his franchise-record ninth shutout on Saturday at Phoenix, was 7-1 with a 1.86 goals-against average in his previous eight starts. … Six of the Kings last seven games have been decided by one goal (3-2-1).