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Kings, Preds wrap up season series

by Frank Mentesana
KINGS (39-25-5) at PREDATORS (35-24-10)


Last 10: Los Angeles 7-2-1; Nashville 4-4-2

Season Series: This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the two clubs, with the Kings holding a 2-1 edge. L.A.'s wins came in the first half of the season, outscoring the Predators 10-2 over those two matchups. A new year brought a new result in the season series, as the Preds notched a 5-2 victory on Jan. 6 in Los Angeles, behind two goals from Patric Hornqvist. For the Kings, winger Ryan Smyth has three goals and an assist versus Nashville this season.

Big Story: Something has to give at the Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night. The Predators have won three in a row at home and have opened their current five-game homestand with convincing wins over the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche. Meanwhile, the Kings have won four straight on the road, and look for a win in "Music City" on Tuesday to complete a perfect four-game road trip. Los Angeles is 10-1-3 in their last 14 games away from the Staples Center, a big reason why the team has climbed to fourth place in the crowded Western Conference standings. With 83 points, the Kings are just three points behind the San Jose Sharks for the Pacific Division lead. However, three points are also what separate them from the team currently out of the playoff picture in ninth place: the Predators. 

Team Scope:

Kings: Not only have the Kings won all three games on their current road trip, but they have won them all in regulation -- although that was in doubt for approximately 22 seconds in Dallas on Sunday. The Kings surrendered a Stars goal with 43 seconds remaining in the third, tying the contest at 2-2 and seemingly sending it into overtime. However, Michal Handzus scored with 20.8 seconds left in regulation, quickly unknotting the score and seizing two points for Los Angeles, while leaving the Stars with nothing to show for their last-minute tally.              

"That was an emotional roller coaster," said Dustin Penner, who has two goals and three assists in six games since being traded from Edmonton on Feb. 28. "I think it's a credit to the guys in the locker room, not to get down, especially when they score with 40 seconds left. For us to bounce back, it showed a lot of character and a lot of heart. It's almost like ignorance, or a naive attitude, to where we don't care if they tied it up. We're going to come back and get the next one. Other teams might fold the tent."

According to the team's web site, coach Terry Murray will start Jonathan Bernier in goal on Tuesday, based on each netminder's past with the Preds. Bernier is 3-1-0 with a 1.75 goals-against average in four career starts against the Predators, while Jonathan Quick is 0-3-1 with a 3.24 GAA in his four outings versus Nashville. "I have to put him in, just because of what he has done against this team," Murray said. 

Predators: Just one point behind Calgary for the eighth spot in the West, the Predators hope to continue their "home cooking." They play 10 of their remaining 13 games at home, but the competition on this homestand becomes a bit more difficult starting with L.A.'s visit. After Tuesday's match-up with the Kings, Nashville will face a couple of division leaders, the Boston Bruins (Northeast) and the Detroit Red Wings (Central). Pekka Rinne has certainly been up to the challenge as of late. The Finn has recorded shutouts in two of his last five starts, and he stopped 36 shots on Saturday to pick up his 25th win, reaching that total for the third straight season.  

"Just try to enjoy this time of the year," Rinne said. "It's so much fun, and obviously it's fun to play now that we have a chance to play at home in front of our fans. Obviously, I think that's going to boost our confidence."

Who's Hot: Kings center Anze Kopitar, coming off his second career hat trick in Friday's win at Columbus, has seven goals and eight assists in his last 10 games. Penner has a point in each of his last five games, with two goals and three assists over that span. … Nashville winger Joel Ward has a goal in three straight games, matching a career high. Martin Erat has also tied a career high, posting at least one assist in each of his last five games.

Injury Report:  The Kings' lone injured player is Scott Parse, who remains on IR (hip surgery). … On the other hand, Nashville is still without several key players: Steve Sullivan (lower body), Marcel Goc (shoulder), Francis Bouillon (upper body), Cal O'Reilly (broken fibula), and Matthew Lombardi (concussion).

Stat Pack: Nashville is 0-for-8 on the power play on this homestand and has the 28th worst power-play percentage in the League at 14.8 percent; they are running into a hot team on the penalty kill, as the Kings have killed off 64 of their opponents' last 69 chances with the man advantage. … Shea Weber's goal on Saturday was his 79th NHL goal, tying him with Kimmo Timonen for the most in Predators franchise history by a defenseman.

Puck Drop: Kopitar will set a Kings' franchise record by playing in his 325th consecutive game, with the safe assumption that he takes the ice on Tuesday against the Preds. His streak nearly ended in this season's opening game, when he was cut by a stick near the mouth and required 18 stitches.

"It was sore, it was painful, but I'm not skating with my face,'' joked Kopitar, who played the next night after being cut. "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."

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