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Losing on the road to a first-place team is acceptable. Losing at home to the worst team in the Western Conference is not.
After wins over Montreal and Boston, Carolina (28-23-7) closed a three-game road trip Saturday with a 5-4 loss to Minnesota, which pulled into a tie for the top spot in the Northwest Division.
The Hurricanes nearly came all the way back after falling behind 4-1, but missed an opportunity to pull within four points of Southeast Division-leading Atlanta. Instead, they remained eighth in the Eastern Conference, one point behind Montreal and two ahead of Toronto.
"We're proud of coming back in the game, but obviously we're not proud of losing the game," defenseman Bret Hedican said. "We're in a dogfight here, and we need every two points we can get."
Cam Ward was pulled for the third time this season after allowing three goals on eight shots midway through the first period. Ward had stropped 59 of 62 shots in his previous two starts.
"When it was 3-1, I didn't like anybody's game at that point," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said.
Ray Whitney continued his red-hot play with a goal and an assist. He has four goals and five assists during a four-game point streak and is nine points shy of matching his career high of 76, set in 2002-03 with Columbus.
Captain Rod Brind'Amour and All-Star center Eric Staal also have points in four straight games. Brind'Amour has two goals and five assists while Staal has one goal and six assists.
Right wing Erik Cole, tied for third on the team with 24 goals, did not play Saturday after injuring his hip Thursday in a 5-2 victory over Boston. He is not expected to play Tuesday.
Carolina is winless in three straight home games (0-2-1) for the first time since a five-game drought from Feb. 19-March 10, 2004.
Los Angeles (19-30-9) may own the worst record in the West, but the team has points in a season-best five straight games.
The Kings recorded their most impressive win of the season Saturday, scoring three second-period goals en route to a 4-1 victory at Nashville that ended the Predators' franchise-record eight-game home win streak.
Rookie Anze Kopitar scored twice and Sean Burke made 21 saves for the Kings, who improved to 2-0-3 in their last five.
"It was a classic total team effort for us," Los Angeles coach Marc Crawford said. "We knew we had to keep our composure. That's always the way you have to play against teams that have as much talent as the Predators have."
The 40-year-old Burke has been better than expected since he was picked off waivers from Tampa Bay on Jan. 18. He is 3-2-2 with a 2.17 goals-against average in eight games.
The playoffs are likely out of reach this season for the Kings, but the play of several youngsters offers hope for the future.
Kopitar is second among rookies with 50 points while center Michael Cammalleri, 24, has five goals and eight assists during a career-best eight-game point streak.
The Hurricanes have a pair of 3-2 victories in their last two meetings with the Kings. Carolina has two wins and a tie at home against Los Angeles since a 6-3 loss on Jan. 20, 2001.