NASHVILLE – As hot as some of the players on his top line have been, Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter said on Tuesday morning that they could be better.
One of those players -- left wing Justin Williams -- responded with two goals in the first period to help power the Kings' fourth win in their last five games in a 5-4 win against the Predators at Bridgestone Arena.
"Well, for us to make the playoffs, it's pretty simple – the best players got to be your best players, right?" Sutter said after the game. "It's not hard to figure out. It's not singling anybody out or anything like that … that's a fact."
And so Williams' linemates continued their production in a desperate attempt to help the Kings qualify for the playoffs. Captain Dustin Brown continued a five-game point streak and has 6 goals and 5 assists in his last seven games. Anze Kopitar had an assist, giving him points in four straight (2 goals and 3 assists). Los Angeles, the lowest-scoring team in the League, began the day in ninth place in the Western Conference, just one point out of the eighth and final playoff spot and scored 5 goals for the first time since Jan. 9.
"That was one of our more offensive games and certainly fun to play," Williams said. "Everyone was into it right off the start. We felt there was good chatter, there was good talk, guys were intense and we got a big win for it."
The win gives the Kings 74 points, tying them with San Jose and Colorado. The Sharks own the eighth spot in the West because they've played one fewer game than the Kings and three fewer than the Avs.
The Kings chased Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, the League's leader in wins with 36, from the crease for the first time since Dec. 23. Kings defenseman Matt Greene broke a 3-3 tie at 1:15 of the third period when his slap shot from the right point made it through traffic and eluded Rinne's glove. Rinne then gave up his fifth goal of the night just 1:45 later, when Lewis scooped up a loose puck and backhanded it over the Preds' goaltender. Rinne stopped 19 of 24 shots.
"We wanted to try to make Rinne work tonight," Williams said. "We felt the last few games, we hadn't gotten as many shots to the net as we should've – whether it be missing the net, getting it blocked, whatever it was … we tried to put as many as we could at him."
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, third in the League in save percentage to start the day, was not at his best either. He stopped 22 of 26 shots and Sutter said both goalies were "fighting it."
Quick thinks the Kings might be picking up some momentum.
"Absolutely," he said. "At the same time, though, you've got to play in the present."
The Kings never trailed in handing Nashville its first loss in regulation at home since Jan. 5, when Dallas beat the Predators 4-1. Since Jan. 1, the Preds are 11-2-2 at home. Dec. 23 also was the last time Nashville gave up at least five goals in a game.
The win represented the first in Quick's career against Nashville (1-4-1). Trevor Lewis had a goal and an assist – his fourth and fifth points of the season in his 56th game -- and defenseman Willie Mitchell had two assists for the Kings.
Predators right wing Patric Hornqvist took advantage of a giveaway by Mitchell with 5:18 left in regulation to pull Nashville within a goal. Hornqvist scored his second of the game and his team-leading 20th of the season on a breakaway after Quick poked the puck off his stick and ricocheted into the goal off Hornqvist's skate.
Predators coach Barry Trotz thought his team was not as committed as Los Angeles was. With Nashville entering the game fifth in the West and having an 11-point cushion to make the playoffs, it seemed understandable that the Kings might play with more urgency.
"They are desperate for the playoffs because they're in that mix," Trotz said. "We were there last year and we had to go like 12-3-2 in our last 17 games or something like that. I can't exactly give you the numbers, but just to get to where we were and that desperation and that full commitment every game has to be there."
Until those two quick goals to start the third period, Los Angeles took the lead three times and three times Nashville tied it. Sergei Kostitsyn tied the game at 3-3 at 14:05 of the second period with his 16th, beating Quick high with a wrist shot from the right circle for the third time in the game -- although Kostitsyn's shot was the first to the blocker side.
Drew Doughty scored his eighth goal to give the Kings a 3-2 edge at 12:21 of the second. Using his blazing speed, Doughty raced into Nashville's zone, slamming his stick along the ice to call for the puck from Jordan Nolan. The rookie forward, at the right circle, passed back to Doughty, whose wrist shot beat Rinne.
Martin Erat pulled Nashville even for the second time in the game at 2-2 with 10:44 left in the second. His wrist shot from the right circle – the second time in the game Nashville beat Quick by going high to the glove side -- gave him 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) in his last 28 games.
After a relatively quiet first period, the teams traded goals 12 seconds apart in the final 1:19 of the period, allowing Los Angeles to take a 2-1 lead into intermission.
First, Hornqvist picked up the rebound of Shea Weber's blocked shot in the high slot and his wrist shot beat Quick high glove before the goalie could react.
Right off the faceoff, Williams took a feed from just inside the blue line from Slava Voynov, beat a Predators defender to the puck and somehow got a backhander from close range by Rinne with 67 seconds left in the period. The goal was Williams' second of the period and 15th of the season.
Williams surprised Rinne at 6:16 of the first period, picking up the puck in the corner and firing it at the net for the game's first goal. Rinne was making his way back into the goal crease and the puck hit off the back of his leg and dribbled across the goal line.
At 13:19 of the third period, Nashville right wing Jordin Tootoo received a 10-minute misconduct. Trotz said he had not had a chance to speak to Tootoo, but he seemed to fear that Tootoo could be subject to supplementary discipline, as Tootoo appeared to put his hands on a linesman.
"Whatever happens, it's really in the League's hands," Trotz said. "The referees were closer to the situation. I'm sure they'll get a call from the League and they'll probably talk to Jordin and go from there."
1 - 0 LAK
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 LAK
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 LAK
3 - 3 Tie
4 - 3 LAK
5 - 3 LAK