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Iron Man Anze

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
NASHVILLE -- Given the intense, hard-hitting nature of hockey, it's sort of a miracle that any player could go more than 50 consecutive games without missing one due to injury.

It's particularly noteworthy, then, that Anze Kopitar will set a Kings franchise record by playing in his 325th consecutive game when the Kings play the Nashville Predators.

Kopitar will never be confused for a light skater who plays on the fringes. At 6-foot-3, 227 pounds, with a nose for the net and with a willingness to play a two-way game, Kopitar knows that his streak is an equal product of good fortune and strong preparation.

``I don't know if that's something you want to look at too much, and jinx it,'' Kopitar said after Monday's practice. ``It's definitely a nice accomplishment. Hopefully it's not going to be done after tomorrow. I hope now. You just play and prepare yourself. That's about as much as you can do for yourself. Come ready to play, and prepare, and obviously some stuff in the offseason helps too.

Anze Kopitar will play in his 325th consecutive game tomorrow.
``If you get hit by a puck and break a bone, it's not like you can do anything about it. The tendons and muscles, if they're attached, that's when you can kind of control it off the ice and just take care of yourself.''

Kopitar's streak started on March 21, 2007, late in his rookie season, after he returned from a back injury, and now he is poised to topple the record set by Marcel Dionne, who played 324 consecutive games from Jan. 7, 1978 until Jan. 9, 1982.

Not surprisingly, Kopitar has had his share of close calls, in terms of missing games. A notable one came in this season's opening game, when he was sliced in the mouth area by a stick and required 18 stitches. Kopitar played the next night.

``It was sore, it was painful, but I'm not skating with my face,'' Kopitar joked. ``The only tough part was eating. My teeth were OK, but I had to chop the food down pretty far, into small pieces. Other than that, everything was fine.''

As the Kings close out their four-game road trip, Jonathan Bernier will start in goal against the Predators on Tuesday night.

Bernier has three previous career starts against the Predators. His first NHL shutout came last March 30, in a 34-save effort. He beat Nashville on Nov. 6 (4-1 at STAPLES Center) and on Dec. 18 (6-1 in Nashville) but then allowed five goals in a loss to Nashville on Jan. 6. Jonathan Quick went 0-3 against the Predators last season. He allowed three goals in each game but also got a total of only five goals of support.

Goalie Jonathan Bernier sees through a screen and a falling Justin Williams during a 6-1 Kings victory over the Predators on December 18.  Bernier will start in Nashville tomorrow.
``When I was starting this whole thing, at the start of this trip, I was thinking Quicker would play this one and get back home,'' Murray said. ``When I started out on the road trip here, I started thinking about things and I checked with Krusher [communications manager Mike Kalinowski] to confirm some numbers that were in my mind. It's too hard to go the other way right now. Bernier has played very well against Nashville. His numbers are really good. I have to put him in, just because of what he has done against this team.''

The Kings will make one other lineup change, with Brad Richardson replacing Kevin Westgarth as the fourth-line right winger, alongside Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford.

``I want to play four lines tomorrow,'' Murray said. ``(In) the last game of the road trip, we need some good energy from that fourth line tomorrow.''

Alexei Ponikarovsky had two big assists in Sunday's victory over Dallas, and while Ponikarovsky's point production -- five goals and seven assists in 48 games -- hasn't lived up to his or the Kings' expectations, Ponikarovsky clearly seems to be playing at his highest level of the season.

Two injuries in the season's first three months got Ponikarovsky off to a bumpy start, but of late he has been a valuable two-way player on the Kings' third line.

The team swarms Alexei Ponikarovsky after his game-winning pass to Michal Handzus yesterday.
``I can't really be satisfied with what I have,'' Ponikarovsky said. ``I have to try to get more out of myself and, every day, be a better player. I had a few injuries in the first half of the season, and that takes a lot out of anybody. You just work hard to get back to the point where you can really play good hockey and help the team.''

Ponikarovsky assisted on Drew Doughty's first-period power-play goal against Dallas, and also provided a screen in front of goalie Kari Lehtonen. Then, on Michal Handzus' game-winning goal, Ponikarovsky got in good position to the side of the net and helped push the puck to Handzus for the goal.

``Poni played really good,'' Murray said. ``And not just because of the winning goal. He was on the puck. He used his body really well in those situations down low, recovered quite a few pucks and had great awareness in his own end. That's where he had a little it of concern in the early part of the year. His D-man was jumping in, and he was just standing there trying to catch him from behind.

``Now he's got great awareness, and (he played well) against a team that has a great group of D. They're very active. They've got Daley, they've got Goligoski, and those guys are jumping in from the blue line. But I thought Poni was real good as a weak-side winger. That's the guy who has to have that great awareness.

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