NASHVILLE – Jonathan Bernier and Scott Parse started this hockey season in Manchester, N.H., with the AHL Monarchs. Jeff Halpern started it in Tampa Bay, with the Lightning. Randy Jones started it in Glens Falls, N.Y., with Adirondack of the AHL.
How unlikely is it, then, that those four players would find themselves together in Tennessee, in late March, playing huge roles in a huge victory for the Kings?
Parse broke a scoreless tie with a third-period goal – with assists from Halpern and Jones – and Bernier made 34 saves for his first shutout (in his sixth NHL start) as the Kings beat the Nashville Predators 2-0 on Tuesday night before 14,433 at Bridgestone Arena.
The game had individual significance for several players, but most importantly, the game meant a lot to the Kings as a collective group.
The Kings were able to stop a 0-3-1 slide in their last four games and were able to end an 0-6-1 slide against the Predators that began at the start of the 2008-09 season.
The win allowed the Kings to reduce their playoff ``magic number’’ to six. They remain in seventh place in the Western Conference and hold a seven-point lead over ninth-place Calgary. With six games remaining, the Kings are one point behind sixth-place Detroit and three points ahead of eighth-place Colorado, which has one game in hand.
``It's been said before,’’ defenseman and alternate captain Matt Greene said. ``If you're at the end of a winning streak, you're winning games that you shouldn't. If you're at the end of a losing streak, you're maybe losing games you shouldn't.
``We've been playing well in the last couple of games. I think we've been doing good things 5-on-5. Our special teams haven't been doing well, but to get a big boost out of [Bernier] tonight and to get this win, especially against these guys, when we're battling them for a spot, I think this game was huge for us.’’
Publicly, the Kings insisted that there was no reason for panic, that, despite their recent slide, they had been playing well of late and felt on the verge of getting two points.
The concern showed, though, in other areas. Coach Terry Murray shifted his lines a bit again Tuesday and, on the morning after a game in Minnesota, held an optional morning skate, something he has traditionally skipped in back-to-back game sets.
``I think this was a real good game for us, because this isn't an easy place to come play,’’ said defenseman Sean O’Donnell, who scored the Kings’ second goal with 2:01 remaining. ``They make you work for everything you have. We've been playing a lot of games lately. They've been playing a lot of games lately.
``I don't want to say `must-win.' It's still the regular season, but to feel a little bit of pressure like we did, like, `We need to get a win here,' and to come into a place like this and get an impressive win in that manner, I think that was hopefully a real stepping stone for us.’’
There were plenty of individual stories to tell Tuesday.
Bernier, a 21-year-old rookie called up from Manchester on Monday morning, made his second start of the season and the sixth of his career. Bernier took the place of goalie Erik Ersberg, who missed the game with a strained back.
Bernier turned in a near-flawless performance. He got tested early, when he helped kill a Nashville penalty in the first five minutes. He got tested in the middle, when the Predators outshot the Kings 15-4 in the second period. And he got tested late, when the Predators buzzed around his net, looking for the game-tying goal in the final 10 minutes.
``Our guys, they were in good position,’’ Bernier said, ``so their guys [Predators] had to go around them if they were screened and stuff. I thought it was a really good game and a big two points for our team.
``It's a lot of emotion, and it's fun to come here.’’
The Kings had one previous look at Bernier this season, when he made 29 saves to beat Dallas 2-1 in a shootout on March 12. Bernier returned to Manchester after that game and allowed a total of only 12 goals in his next six games. Tuesday, he was even better.
``I've only seen him two games,’’ O’Donnell said, ``but `poise' seems to be the best word. I don't think it's an accident when you see a lot of pucks hitting him in the pads or hitting him in the shoulder or whatever. You've got world-class players over there, and they seemed to be hitting him in the chest. He just seems to be sound, positionally, all the time.
``When he does have to make a save, the one on (Shea) Weber in the third period, that's a world-class save. He's about as dangerous a guy on the point as you want, and he had the top corner and he [Bernier] made the play. He's poised and calm back there, and it's nice to play with a young goalie that seems to have that already.’’
Bernier got just enough scoring help from his teammates against a scrappy Nashville team and its strong goalie, Pekka Rinne, who made 29 saves.
The Kings outshot the Predators 18-8 in a scoreless first period that saw each team get one power play, while the Predators outshot the Kings 15-4 in a scoreless second period in which the Predators had the only power play.
Parse, coming off a two-goal game against Minnesota last night, broke the scoreless tie 7:50 into the third period.
Halpern took a pass from Jones, behind the Nashville net, skated in front and fed a perfect centering pass to Parse, who crashed the front of the net, took the pass and beat Rinne from close range for a 1-0 Kings lead.
``There's not a lot of guys going to score that goal,’’ Murray said. ``That's a great play by Randy Jones, first of all, on the faceoff. He's showed great awareness of holding on, and composure, and buying time, and then for that play to come as quickly as it did, with the speed that he's coming to the net with, and to place it where he [Parse] did, not a lot of players can find that small spot.’’
The Kings held up well under strong Nashville pressure and took a 2-0 lead with 2:01 remaining, on a 4-on-4 goal. Alexander Frolov took a long-range shot and O’Donnell corralled the rebound in the left faceoff circle and beat Rinne with a shot to the far high corner. Jarret Stoll also assisted.
``The end result, the whole thing, is because of Fro with the shot mentality, getting pucks to the net,’’ Murray said. ``It's a sharp angle. You're just hoping something can happen, that there is a loose puck and, hey, OD practices that top corner a lot. It was a huge goal, obviously, to kind of solidify the win for us in this very difficult building to play in.’’
The goal was O’Donnell’s third of the season, in his 72nd game, and only his 30th career goal in his 1,086th NHL game. O’Donnell took some good-natured ribbing for that, but he seems to have a knack for big goals. O’Donnell’s first goal this season, on Dec. 15 at Edmonton, gave the Kings a 3-2 victory.
``Huge,’’ Greene said. ``It's awesome. He's been doing the job all year for us, too. He's a clutch player. I think every one of his goals have been huge, all year, and for him to get that one is awesome. He's been helping us out in every other way this year, and for him to get that, it's great to see. I wouldn't say `expected,' but we'll take it, it's awesome. That's what he does. He just chips in with everything.’’
Snap shot -
1 - 0 LAK
Wrist shot -
2 - 0 LAK