The Nashville Predators got a late goal from Ryan Jones to beat the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 and climb into 7th place in the Western Conference playoff race. With the win, the Preds have taken the first two decisions on a four-game road trip that continues Wednesday in Anaheim and Thursday in San Jose.
Los Angeles came out flying, and created several good opportunities that Pekka Rinne was forced to turn aside. They were helped on that front by earning two early power plays, one drawn by Dustin Brown (shock-a-roony!) in a scrum with Jerred Smithson. While the Preds successfully killed off those chances, you never like having to rely on the PK so early on, as it really disrupts the flow of the forward lines. Ryan Jones and Ville Koistinen, for example, didn't even see their first ice time until midway through the period.
The Kings eventually took the lead when a turnover at center ice was turned around quickly by Dustin Brown, who fired a hard shot which left a loose puck behind Rinne, and Anze Kopitar beat Dan Hamhuis to the spot to stuff it home. Nashville tied it up with just 15 seconds left in the period, as J.P. Dumont fed a pass back to Shea Weber at the point; his slapper found its way through a screen for the score. With the goal (his 19th), Weber set a new team record for scoring by a defenseman, beating the mark set by Andy Delmore.
At that point the Kings had outshot Nashville 12-6, and during his intermission interview, Steve Sullivan expressed disappointment at how the team had played to that point. To him it was a matter of the team simply not executing the game plan, and something that could definitely be fixed.
The Preds certainly took that point to heart as they came out much stronger in the 2nd, adding an early power play goal by Joel Ward to take the 2-1 lead just 1:24 into the period. Dumont took a feed off the side boards by David Legwand, carried the puck down the right side of the slot, and drew the attention of the Los Angeles defense before feeding a crossing pass to a wide-open Joel Ward off the far side, who rifled the puck quickly for his 12th goal of the season.
Nashville followed up by carrying the play through most of the period, evening things up on the shot clock until another L.A. power play let the Kings back in the game. The Predators PK unit gave up a rare goal to Teddy Purcell to tie the game at 2-2, but Nashville came back just minutes later to retake the lead. A Martin Erat feed to Sullivan in the high slot led to a shot to Kings goalie Erik Ersberg's far side, and another Nashville score. Ryan Suter got the secondary assist on the goal, extending his personal points streak to seven games.
The third period was a pretty tentative affair to start, until L.A. tied the game back up at 3-3. Michal Handzus had plenty of time with the puck behind the Nashville net, until he came out to one side and slipped a wrist shot through Rinne for the goal.
A real scare came with just under four minutes remaining in the third, when Kopitar boarded Dumont in the corner of the Nashville zone. Dumont got up very slowly and skated off under his own power, but considering the injuries the team is already dealing with, thinking of #71 out of the lineup is pretty much a worst-case scenario for Preds fans.
From there, however, the emotional roller coaster was to take a more positive turn. With the talented Kings forwards creating dangerous chances for L.A., it took a blue-collar type of play to put Nashville back on top 4-3. Hamhuis took a basic shot from the left point that left a rebound in front, which Ryan Jones pulled to his backhand and slipped into the net for what became his first NHL Game Winning Goal. It was a perfect example of the type of score which the Preds front office has talked about Jones bringing to this team, and he couldn't have picked a better time to provide one.
Rinne hung on under intense pressure in the final minutes, as the Kings got a late power play and pulled Ersberg for a 6-on-4 attack. In total, he turned aside 26 of 29 shots, extending his record to 25-11-1, including 8-1 in his last 9 games.
The unsung hero in all of this was Legwand, who, in the absence of Jason Arnott, has picked up extra duty in a number of areas. Double-shifting at times in even strength along with plenty of PP and PK work, Leggy logged 23:32 in total, earning an assist on the Ward goal.