The Kings returned from a four-day break Thursday, only to discover a lot has changed since they’ve been away.
During that time the St. Louis Blues won two games, vaulting over the Kings into the Western Conference’s final postseason berth. Vancouver earned four points in three games to sneak up on the Kings from behind. And Dallas pulled to within four points, joining Winnipeg in what is now a five-team race for one playoff spot.
That left the Kings with a lot of ground to make up when they took the ice against Nashville on Thursday and they got a good start on that, twice rallying from a one-goal deficit before beating the Predators, 3-2, on Jarome Iginla’s goal 3½ minutes into overtime.
“Every game now is a playoff game for us,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. “It’s important.”
The goal was Iginla’s second of the game, his second since coming to the Kings in a trade-deadline deal last week and the 621st of his career while for the team the victory was only the second in five games. But the Kings have earned at least a point in four of those games, heating up just as the playoff race has begun to boil.
All three Kings’ goals Thursday came on power plays, giving the team seven power-play goals in their last four games. And the win was their 23rd in 29 overtime games since the NHL adopted the three-on-three format last season.
Marian Gaborik got the Kings’ other goal in the third period while Nashville got a first-period score from Calle Jarnkrok and a third-period goal from Kevin Fiala.
“It was a hard-fought game for sure. Lots on the line,” Iginla said. “It feels good to be able to get that win as a group.
“New team, to be able to find some way to contribute, it’s exciting to be out there at the end in a key situation.”
Nashville struck first, scoring with just more than three minutes left in the first period after Roman Josi knocked the puck off Gaborik’s stick along the right boards. Jarnkrok collected the puck in the low slot, spun and snapped it past Jonathan Quick to put the Predators up, 1-0, on just their third shot of the game.
The Kings tied it early in the second period when Iginla, positioned on the edge of the crease, gathered in a short pass from Gaborik just before it reached the pads of Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, pulled the puck back to deke the goalie out of position, then pushed it past the goalie at the right post with one second left on the power play.
Fiala broke the tie 91 seconds into the final period, poking home a rebound during a scramble in the crease to give Nashville a 2-1 lead that lasted less than 10 minutes.
With another Kings’ power play running down in the third period, Gaborik knocked down an Alec Martinez shot from the point, then pushed the puck under Rinne and into the net to send the game to overtime.
And send Iginla home dreaming of his first playoff berth in three seasons.
“I’m positive. I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I know we’ve got a lot of work to do. But these guys, they’re winners. It’s a very tight-knit group. This time of year, they find ways.
“It’s going to be a last fun month of the regular season. Everyone believes we can get in.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11