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Nashville 4, Kings 3

Kings head for road on wrong foot

Loss to Predators leaves Kings six points out of a playoff spot at they embark on a 13-day trip.

March 17, 2009|Billy Witz

The Kings embark this morning on a 13-day trip, having to vacate Staples Center to make room for the World Figure Skating Championships. On their way out of town, they'll have some figuring of their own to do: How to remain in the playoff race.

That prospect became more unlikely Monday night after the Kings' 4-3 loss to Nashville when Ryan Jones rapped a rebound past Erik Ersberg with 2:18 to play.

The loss kept the Kings cemented at 68 points, now six points behind eighth-place Dallas for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference.

So desperate were the Kings for points that Coach Terry Murray pulled Ersberg for an extra attacker for the final 91 seconds.

But it was to no avail. When the final horn sounded, Anze Kopitar, lying on the ice, slammed his stick against the boards in frustration.

"This was a must win for us," Kings captain Dustin Brown said.

"It's a frustrating one to lose, especially when you're making the same mistakes as in Game 5 [of the season]."

The Kings gave up four goals to a team that had failed to score more than two in 16 of their last 17 road games.

The Kings can stew on their circumstances when they depart for a nearly two-week trip to Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas and Nashville. Their next home game is March 31 against Dallas.

Whether there will still be a playoff race left when they return is another question.

For many of the young Kings, such as Brown, leading scorer Kopitar, promising defensemen Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty, and goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Ersberg, this is their first exposure to a playoff race.

These are the types of games where each little detail is magnified and a momentary loss of focus can prove critical.

So it was Monday for Ersberg, who played so well in a 2-1 shootout loss to San Jose on Saturday that he was rewarded with his first consecutive starts since December, when Quick was still in the minor leagues.

Ersberg played well much of the night, but he made two momentum-sapping mistakes. The Kings dominated the first period, but Shea Weber's slap shot from just inside the blue line found its way into the net with 14.8 seconds left, tying the score, 1-1.

Then, after Teddy Purcell had tied the score, 2-2, with a power-play goal at 16:25 of the second, Ersberg gave it right back. Nashville's Steve Sullivan lifted a wrist shot from the top of the slot into the net, beating Ersberg to the stick side at 18:10.

The Kings seemed like they might at least scratch one point out when Michael Handzus, who had been dominant on faceoffs, took the puck from behind the Nashville net, carried it in front and slipped it off the pads of Pekka Rinne and into the net with 10:07 to play.

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billywitz@yahoo.com

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