Heading into this daunting three-game homestand, which began last Thursday against the New York Rangers, the Lightning, despite playing well throughout November, were a game under .500. Now, after sweeping the Rangers, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, the Bolts are two games back over .500. As was the case against the Rangers and the first half of the contest against the Ducks, this game against the Kings was a close, hard-fought battle. At times, the Lightning carried play. At other times, the Kings were able to use their “heavy” game to possess the puck and apply pressure. Both Ben Bishop and L.A.’s Jonathan Quick performed excellently, denying opposition scoring chances. Ultimately, the game came down to the shootout. After going a combined 0-6 on shots in two previous shootout losses this year, the Lightning netted two shootout goals and were able to prevail.
The Lightning’s best overall period was the first. They had the majority of the puck possession and the better scoring chances. They outshot the Kings, 11-8, but also had 10 more shot attempts (24-14). How did they build this advantage? The Lightning kept their game simple – an important key against the structured Kings. So they didn’t spend a lot of time in their own zone. They were also quick on loose pucks and forechecked effectively, forcing multiple turnovers in the L.A. end.
In the second period, however, the Kings picked up their game. L.A. is a team that is strong on the puck – and the Kings heavy play led to more possession time. Bishop’s best save in the period came on Anze Kopitar at the end of a three-on-two rush.
So each team had an edge in each of the first two periods, but neither side was able to score a goal. That changed early in the third, when Jonathan Marchessault won a puck battle at center ice and forced it into the offense end. He then blocked Jake Muzzin’s clearing attempt and chipped the puck cross-ice to Tyler Johnson. Johnson walked from the left circle to the slot and snapped a shot past Quick to give the Lightning the lead at 5:57.
From Johnson’s goal up until Milan Lucic tied the score with 5:23 left, the Kings had a shot advantage. But it wasn’t because the Lightning were consistently under siege. In fact, they might have had the best scoring chance during that time – J.T. Brown was denied by Quick during a two-on-one. But eventually, the Kings did tie the game on Lucic’s goal, a left circle shot on which Bishop was screened. In the final minutes of regulation, the Lightning had two more good scoring chances – a point blank shot for Alex Killorn and another chance for Brown in the closing seconds of regulation.
Both teams had Grade-A looks during the three-on-three. Bishop made four saves, including a poke-check on Kopitar during a breakaway. He then made two more during the shootout, denying Jeff Carter in Round One and Tyler Toffoli in Round Three. The Lightning scored in both those rounds, getting goals from Marchessault and the eventual winner from Valtteri Filppula.
It may not have been a smooth 65-minute ride for the Lightning. But one shouldn’t expect that sort of game against the Kings, who are one of the hardest teams to face in the league. The key for the Lightning was that they played with a high compete level, just as they have done in other recent games. That workmanlike effort helped them pick up their third straight win.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Johnson’s goal, which broke the scoreless tie, so the Lightning never had to play catch-up against the Kings.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 37 saves.
2.Jonathan Quick – Kings. 29 saves.
3.J.T. Brown – Lightning. Team-high six shots.