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NASHVILLE -- Detroit is trying to lock down a division title. Columbus, Dallas and Nashville are all in desperate fights to stay in the top eight in the Western Conference.
The Kings beat them all. On the road. In the last month of the season.
It doesn't get much bigger or better than a perfect four-game road trip in mid-March, so the Kings were rightfully proud of their accomplishment after they held off the Nashville Predators in a 4-2 victory on Tuesday night before 15,761 at Bridgestone Arena.
Alec Martinez and Wayne Simmonds scored second-period goals to break open a 1-1 game, Dustin Brown scored a late empty-net goal after the Predators pulled within one and goalie Jonathan Bernier continued his amazing run of success in Tennesee.
The Kings still have a dozen games to play, but the significance of Tuesday can't be ignored. The Kings moved back into fourth place in the conference, but more importantly, they also moved five points-clear of the ninth-place Predators.
``Obviously to go 4-0 right now, it doesn't happen very often,'' said Anze Kopitar, who had a first-period goal and also had one assist. ``We approach it just like playoffs. It's the playoffs for us. The playoffs are at stake, and you've got to play right to your potential every night. I think that's what we showed, throughout these four games.''
The Kings flew home after the game, no doubt happy to rediscover the comforts of home, but perhaps a bit chagrined about having to leave the road. The Kings are 11-1-3 in their last 15 road games, and now have a five-game run at STAPLES Center.
The Kings won their 40th game of the season, giving them back-to-back 40-win seasons for the first time in franchise history.
``These were all very big games, very meaningful for everybody,'' coach Terry Murray said. ``To win four in a row like this, at this time of the year, it's a big dig-in by everybody. Everybody came into this road trip with a playoff mentality and did the right things in most of the games, certainly enough to get the job done. Now we've got to make sure we're bringing this attitude back, and do the same thing at Staples Center.''
The ``attitude'' Murray referenced involves playing tough, responsible defense and getting timely goals, and that's what the Kings did throughout the road trip.
It also helps when a goalie seems to be invincible in a particular arena, and there's something about Bridgestone Arena that really seems to appeal to Bernier.
Bernier has played three games in Nashville and won all three, including one shutout, and has stopped 93 of 96 shots. After the latest conquest, Bernier could only laugh when asked about the mastery he seems to have in the Volunteer State.
``It's all about the mental side,'' Bernier said. ``I think it's just the type of team that gives me a lot of action and keeps me in the game. I felt good the whole game.
``It's great. Terry gives me that chance to play and show what I can do. It's great. The guys are playing great in front of us, and it's all a team effort.''
Bernier got some work early, as the Predators outshot the Kings 10-1 over the game's first 10-plus minutes, but the Kings got on the scoreboard first. After a faceoff in the Nashville zone, Dustin Penner controlled the below below the goal line and made a blind centering pass. Kopitar was there and stuffed the puck past Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne to give the Kings a 1-0 lead with 8:29 remaining in the first period.
The Predators tied the game with 2:31 remaining in the first period. After a faceoff win in the Kings' zone, Predators defenseman Jonathon Blum -- a Southern California native -- shot from the left point, through traffic, and the puck got deflected on the way to the net before it beat Bernier to make it a 1-1 game.
Martinez gave the Kings a 2-1 lead 2:16 into the second period. Ryan Smyth started the play by carrying the puck wide into the Predators' zone. Smyth pushed it to his right, to Brown, and Martinez jumped into the play to create a quick 2-on-1. Brown passed to Martinez, who one-timed a shot past Rinne.
The Kings took a 3-1 lead with 7:57 remaining in the second period. Kopitar started the play by forcing the puck away from Matt Halischuk at the Predators' blue line. Kopitar then skated in and hit Simmonds with a cross-ice pass, and Simmonds' line-time shot from the left circle beat Rinne, short side. Alexei Ponikarovsky also picked up an assist.
``I just jumped off the bench,'' Simmonds said. ``Kopi had the puck and I yelled for him and he looked right at me. I just wanted to get it off as quick as possible, and luckily it went in.''
Nashville pulled within 3-2 with a goal with 7:17 remaining in the third period. Cody Franson shot through traffic, from the right point, and J-P Dumont got a deflection and the puck beat Bernier.
The Kings held on, and made it a 4-2 game moments after the Predators pulled Rinne from the net. Brown controlled the puck in the neutral zone and fired the puck into an empty net with 1:02 remaining.
``They always come out strong in this building,'' said Kopitar, who set a franchise record by appearing in his 325th consecutive game. ``I thought we had a couple really good shifts in the first, and we obviously scored a goal, and then they came back. In the second, usually that's where the game breaks.
``I thought we've had a couple good, solid second periods in a row now. Even in Dallas, I thought we really took it to them. It was just a good effort from everybody.''