The Kings want no uncertainty about their goaltending situation, and they’re not getting any. Jonathan Bernier’s second outing of the season was hardly the equal of Jonathan Quick’s stellar start — though he was at his best when needed most.
The real uncertainty after a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at Staples Center on Wednesday was the availability of defenseman Drew Doughty, who left the game after one period with one of hockey’s purposefully vague assessments, “an upper-body injury.”
Doughty was not traveling with the team for Thursday’s game at Phoenix, but Coach Terry Murray said Doughty could join the team there. He described the play Doughty was injured on in the first period as a hit by Erik Cole in the neutral zone “when the puck was long gone.”
Whether Doughty’s injury is resolved quickly or lingers remains to be seen.
“It’s a big loss,” center Anze Kopitar said. “I don’t know his status right now. … Hopefully he’ll be back with us soon.”
There were some pleasant surprises for the Kings, particularly the go-ahead goal scored at 3:19 of the third.
Andrei Loktionov had the puck behind the Carolina goal line and tried to center it, only to see it carom off goaltender Justin Peters’ stick and into the net for his first NHL goal.
Another positive development: Kopitar broke through for his first goal of the season, grinning with what looked like relief before he left the ice, and Ryan Smyth scored another goal, earning his sixth point in three games.
Kopitar led the Kings with 34 goals and 81 points last season, but didn’t put the puck in the net in the first four games — a sharp contrast to his torrid start last season.
Quick has given up only three goals in three games, but with a game at Phoenix on Thursday and Murray determined not to burn him out as seemed clear last season, Bernier got the start.
He was shaky at times, but not late in the third, when he helped the Kings hold on, making a stop on Cole on a breakaway, and fending off a late power play.
“I know it could have been 3-1 us or 4-1, but I found a way,” Bernier said.
The Kings took the early lead on Smyth’s extra effort at 5:43 of the opening period. Smyth left a drop pass for Justin Williams and then went sliding to the other side of the net to knock in the rebound of Williams’ shot.
But the Hurricanes, coming off a win at San Jose on Tuesday — perhaps finally getting their legs back on a cross-country trip after their season-opener in Finland — beat Bernier twice to take a 2-1 lead.
The first came when Chad LaRose’s shot at 7:31 went into the net under the crossbar and caromed out, but a video review confirmed it was a goal.
The second was on a three-on-one rush, with Eric Staal taking the shot that beat Bernier.
Michal Handzus’ goal with 8.5 seconds left in the first period made it 2-2.
The teams entered the final period tied, 3-3, after Kopitar’s goal and one from Carolina’s Jeff Skinner, his first NHL goal, on a rebound Bernier didn’t control.
Defenseman Matt Greene received medical clearance to resume full-contact practices after shoulder surgery and is likely to return to the lineup on the trip.