Kucherov, Stamkos lead red-hot Lightning past Kings
LOS ANGELES — An early penalty kill and a picture-perfect blocker save by goaltender Peter Budaj set up the Tampa Bay Lightning for an offensive rampage against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on Thursday evening.
The result? Five goals, the same number Tampa Bay posted the night before against the San Jose Sharks.
Four Lightning players, including the red-hot Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, had multi-point games, and Budaj made 22 saves as Tampa Bay defeated the Los Angeles 5-2.
An offensive explosion was expected between two high-scoring teams. Nobody could have guessed it would come so quickly and one-sidedly. Halfway through the first period, the Lightning stung the Kings for four goals in a span of 2:02.
“Our whole strategy was to do a better job of checking against that kind of offense, and quite frankly, we didn’t do a very good job of it,” Kings coach John Stevens said. “This is a gauge and a measuring stick for us. Our guys have played extremely hard to this point, and I do think (the Lightning) are the best team in the league, the best team we’ve seen. They’re a different animal, and we’ve got some work to do.”
Tampa Bay (13-2-2) saw 10 players record points and five score goals. Stamkos had a goal and an assist, keeping him atop the NHL with 30 points, while Kucherov recorded three points, including his league-leading 16th goal. He has 29 points.
Los Angeles (11-3-2) allowed one power-play goal on seven minor penalties. The Kings led the league on the penalty kill coming into the game.
The Lightning opened the scoring at 9:27 of the first period when Stamkos snaked a pass to Kucherov at center from deep in the Tampa Bay zone. Approaching the net, Kucherov slowed, deked left to right, then slid the puck past goalie Jonathan Quick along the ice.
Budaj earlier stonewalled Anze Kopitar with a blocker save, creating a crucial early turning point.
“That’s the game-changer for us,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “(Budaj) makes that save on Kopitar. We lost our coverage. That’s a big-time shot by a big-time player. Then the skill guys took over, and (Kucherov) makes it 1-0.
“You could see their guys are up on the bench on the shot and down on the breakaway. Then that next 2 1/2 minutes, the boys were flying. It’s tough to come back after that.”
Tampa Bay went up 2-0 when Alex Killorn scored his second of the season at 10:01 of the first period. Tyler Johnson put a cross-ice pass to Dan Girardi, who spotted Killorn in the low slot. Killorn redirected the puck from the top of the crease.
The Lightning jumped to a 3-0 lead at 10:35, when Victor Hedman fired a rising wrist shot for his second goal. The Kings challenged the play as offside and received a delay-of-game penalty when their appeal was denied.
Only 34 seconds later, Tampa Bay capitalized on the power play to make it 4-0 on Stamkos’ eighth goal. Stamkos scored from one knee on his patented one-timer after a backhand pass across the slot by Killorn.
Los Angeles broke the shutout at 17:31 of the second period when Tyler Toffoli netted his eighth of the season. He tried a shot that came back to him off Anton Stralman’s stick in the slot and persisted to whack it home on the long side under Budaj’s catching glove.
The Kings appeared to make it 4-2 at 19:13 as Kopitar kicked the puck from skate to stick and fired a shot between the legs of Dustin Brown as he crowded Budaj. The goal was overturned because of goaltender interference.
“I’m totally confused on the goaltender-interference penalty,” Stevens said. “I don’t have a clue what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. If the league wants to put a seminar together, I will attend it, because I’m more confused now than I was at the beginning of the year.”
Los Angeles made it 4-2 at 8:39 of the third period when Oscar Fantenberg collected his first career goal. Brown executed a spin move in the right corner, then carried the puck around the net and fed it to the slot. It skipped off Kings forward Brooks Laich’s skate to Fantenberg, who fired a wrist shot into the top of the net.
“I tried to sneak behind the forward and I got it, and luckily it went in,” Fantenberg said. “It’s really good for your self-confidence to get a goal, but I would have rather had two more points tonight.”
Vladislav Namestnikov scored his eighth goal of the season at 12:59 of the third period. Quick was in full splits as the puck went over him and bounced out. A brief review confirmed the goal.
Quick finished with 38 saves.
Cooper summed up his team’s two-night performance: “To come three time zones and take four points in basically 24 hours versus two very good teams, as a coach, you’re really, really happy.
“You’ve got to look at, yeah, we’re scoring goals, but how are we playing defensively? We gave up three goals in two games against some really good teams. It’s not as fun, but it makes you happy.”
NOTES: Los Angeles scratched D Christian Folin and LW Adrian Kempe, who was ill. ... Tampa Bay scratched C Cedric Paquette, RW Ryan Callahan and D Andrej Sustr. ... The Lightning have a club-record 28 points through 17 games.