Kings Can’t Stomach Predators’ Rally in 6-4 Loss


Dallas, St. Louis, Ottawa, Toronto, Colorado, New Jersey. Those teams the Kings can beat.

After Thursday night, count Nashville in with the Floridas, Tampa Bays and Atlantas of the NHL, all of whom have taken points away from the Kings at Staples Center.

Third-period goals by Greg Classen, Robert Valicevic, Greg Johnson and Tom Fitzgerald earned the Predators a 6-4 victory over a King team that played maybe four or five minutes before an announced 12,639, the smallest crowd in Staples Center history.

“We did things a team does when they’re in 10th place,” Coach Andy Murray said.

The Kings exchanged places in the standings with Nashville by blowing a game they led after two periods for the first time all season. They were 19-0-1 in that situation before Thursday night.


“This just twists your gut up,” Murray said. “It puts your stomach in knots.”

He wasn’t the only one seeking antacid.

“This is a difficult loss, a bad loss,” said Luc Robitaille, who had the first and last King goals, both highlight-video variety. They fashioned a 4-1 King lead, one that wasn’t Jamie Storr-proof.

“We started to play their game. We started to sit back and you can’t do that in this league, you just can’t do that,” Robitaille said. “You’ve got to go at a team, and you can never stop. . . . This is an awful loss.”

It came against a team that swept a three-game West Coast swing, one with playoff aspirations in only its third season.

“It was a good win,” Predator Coach Barry Trotz said. “It was an important win for us, at the All-Star break, against a team that we’re trying to catch.”

Make that caught . . . and passed.

It began to happen in the second period, after the Kings had gotten goals from Eric Belanger, Bryan Smolinski and Robitaille over a span of 3:52.

“We had a 4-1 lead, and I don’t know if we were playing particularly well, but we had a 4-1 lead and [the game] should end,” Murray said. “You should play hard the remainder of the way and you win the game.”


Uh, no.

The tide began to turn on a goal by Bill Houlder from the faceoff circle at 14:24 of the second period.

In the third there was a tsunami, with Nashville tying a team record for goals in a period.

First came Classen’s goal, scored on a 5-on-3 power play.

“We take two unnecessary penalties [by Kelly Buchberger and Rob Blake] and put them on the five on three,” Murray said. “You can’t do that. You have to be smarter.”

They needed only 30 seconds of the advantage to get Classen’s second goal that made it 4-3 when goalie Storr stopped but failed to clear a shot by Cliff Ronning. The puck sat in front of Storr, room service for Classen.

The game-tying goal came with Nashville still on the power play, when Mark Eaton blasted a shot from the outside that hit the crossbar and dropped behind Storr, who had gone out slightly to challenge the shot. The puck was in the crease, inches from the goal line, until Storr fell back under a pile of bodies and appeared to push it over with his glove.

The goal was credited to Robert Valicevic, who was in the neighborhood and might have hit the puck.


Johnson’s goal was the game-winner, scored at 14:11 when Patric Kjellberg picked a puck from King defenseman Mathieu Schneider and sailed goalward, with Johnson and Blake chasing the play.

Kjellberg flipped a pass to Johnson. Storr sprawled to make the save, and Johnson pulled the puck back in, then backhanded it into the net.

It was a problem the Kings have had all season, one that seemed quelled of late when Storr had played well. He shut out Dallas only two nights earlier. On Thursday night, he gave up five goals in 25 shots.

At evening’s end, the Kings owned 54 points, two fewer than they had at the All-Star break last season.

Then, the points were good for seventh in the Western Conference, comfortably on the playoff ladder. Now they are in 10th, on the outside looking in with 30 games to play.

“There’s nothing we can do about those 52 games,” Robitaille said. “There’s something we can do about those 30 games and we will.”