LOS ANGELES (AP) Patric Hornqvist scored the tiebreaking goal with 3:31 to play, Pekka Rinne made 18 saves and the Nashville Predators extended their mastery over the Los Angeles Kings with a 3-2 victory Sunday.
Steve Sullivan and Colin Wilson also scored for the Predators, who have beaten the Kings seven straight times.
After the teams exchanged third-period goals, Hornqvist abruptly put Nashville ahead when he beat Jonathan Quick in front of the net for his 26th goal.
Anze Kopitar scored his career high-tying 32nd goal on his bobblehead day, and captain Dustin Brown also scored as the Kings opened a key four-game homestand with their fourth loss in six games. Quick stopped 28 shots in his return from a one-game absence for his daughter’s birth.
With another near-spotless defensive performance featuring just one minor penalty, the Predators wrapped up a four-game road trip with three victories and stayed firmly in seventh place in the Western Conference playoff picture, just four points behind the Kings.
Although the Predators struggle to score and don’t kill penalties well, they make up for their deficiencies with consistent, timely play – particularly against the Kings, who surrendered a brief third-period lead and then couldn’t convert several chances with an extra attacker in the final minute.
After 37 scoreless minutes, Brown finally broke the tie with 14:04 to play when he collected the puck off the boards, skated to the middle of the slot and fired a wrist shot past Rinne. But Los Angeles allowed Martin Erat to skate in on Quick just 39 seconds later, and Wilson tipped home the rebound for his third goal in four games.
In right wing Justin Williams’ second game back from a 28-game absence with a broken leg, the Kings had their projected top line together for a game at Staples Center for the first time since mid-November. Williams skated alongside Kopitar and Ryan Smyth, who had just returned from an upper-body injury on Dec. 26 when Williams was hurt in Phoenix.
With a rare 12 p.m. start on the first day of daylight savings time, the Kings were sluggish from the opening faceoff. Not the Predators, who got the first six shots and scored less than 5 minutes in when Sullivan slipped a knuckleballing puck between Quick’s blocker and his body.
But Kopitar quickly evened it with a power-play score, tying his career high from 2007-08 with 14 games still to play for Los Angeles’ leading scorer.
Williams appeared to score early in the third period, but Smyth was called for goaltender interference for slight contact with Rinne moments earlier. Smyth wasn’t assessed a penalty, and the Kings were infuriated by the unusual ruling.
NOTES: Steven Holcomb, who drove the USA-1 bobsled to a gold-medal victory in Vancouver last month, watched the game and got a standing ovation when shown on the overhead scoreboard. … The Kings finish the regular season with nine of 15 games at home, while the Predators have nine of their last 13 at home, starting Tuesday against Philadelphia. … Los Angeles sent G Jonathan Bernier back to the minors after he won a fill-in start Friday at Dallas in impressive fashion, stopping 29 shots and all six shootout attempts. Erik Ersberg, Quick’s season-long backup, wasn’t thrilled to be passed over for a rare chance to replace Quick, who had played in 19 of the Kings’ previous 20 games.