LOS ANGELES (AP) — Viktor Stalberg flung the puck at Los Angeles’ net. Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin stuck out his stick to play it.
And in an instant, the Nashville Predators got the type of lucky break that has largely been eluding them for weeks.
“It was a good bounce for us, and we haven’t had a lot of them lately,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.
Stalberg got credit for the tiebreaking goal when Muzzin deflected the puck into his own net, and the Predators slowed their March skid with a 2-1 victory Saturday night.
Craig Smith scored the tying goal on a power play early in the third period for the Predators, who won for just the second time in nine games.
After five straight periods of scoreless hockey, Nashville got two goals in 66 seconds. Pekka Rinne and the Predators then hung on for their first regulation victory since Feb. 24, reclaiming sole possession of the Central Division lead in the process.
Most significantly, they finally got a break. When Stalberg put the puck on net, it ramped up Muzzin’s outstretched stick and flew past Jonathan Quick’s ear.
“We’d like to get a couple more like that here and there,” Smith said of Muzzin’s own-goal. “It happens. Just shoot the puck at the net, create havoc in front of it, and good things happen.”
Rinne made 23 saves in his 200th career victory as Nashville reclaimed sole possession of the Central Division lead with the franchise’s 600th win overall.
“I thought that was one of our better defensive games in a long time,” Rinne said after Nashville shut out Los Angeles for the final 52 minutes. “We got lucky with Stalberg’s goal, and you need those. You need those lucky bounces.”
Quick stopped 21 shots and Jeff Carter scored his 24th goal for the Kings, who had won four of five. They were comfortably moving toward another defense-dominated win until Smith scored late in a power play set up by Kings rookie Nick Shore’s unusual penalty for playing the puck with his hand on a faceoff.
“You’ve got to call it,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said of the penalty. “Happens three, four times a year. Kids, it’s an instinct play for them. Hopefully that’s an experience he’ll learn from.”
The defending Stanley Cup champions slipped back out of the playoff picture with just their fourth regulation loss since Feb. 5. They sit one point behind Winnipeg for the final wild-card berth, albeit with a game in hand on the Jets.
“Obviously a tough break, but we gave them too many chances off of our mistakes and our poor management of the puck,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said.
The Kings went ahead on a power play in the opening minutes when Andrej Sekera’s shot ricocheted off defenseman Ryan Ellis and went straight to Carter, who buried it for his 13th goal in 19 career games against Nashville. The power forward has six goals in Los Angeles’ last seven games.
Nashville allowed the first goal for the 13th time in its last 14 games, another factor in its slump. Quick then made several sharp saves in the first two periods, sprawling onto his back to rob Calle Jarnkrok early on.
The Predators finally broke through after Shore’s penalty. Smith slipped in front of the Kings’ net late in the power play and lifted his 22nd goal over Quick.
Los Angeles had killed 38 of its previous 39 penalties since Feb. 12, while the Predators were in an 0-for-21 power-play slump with no goals in their last six games. Quick hadn’t allowed a goal in 118 minutes, 10 seconds.
Just 1:06 later, Stalberg got credit for his first goal of the season at Muzzin’s expense.
NOTES: Nashville F James Neal sat out with an upper-body injury. … Los Angeles C Jarret Stoll missed his first game of the season with an upper-body injury. … Kopitar played less than 24 hours after his wife, Ines, gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Neza.
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