The defending Stanley Cup Champion Kings may struggle to make the playoffs this year. They entered this game in 12th place in the Western Conference, five points out of the final playoff spot. But despite their uneven season so far, the Kings, when they are playing their game, are still one of the most structured, sound defensive teams in the league. It’s tough enough to win after spotting a three-goal lead to any club in the NHL – it’s that much more difficult to rally from such a deficit against the Kings.
Even though the Lightning weren’t at their best for much of this game, they nearly did complete the rally. They cut the LA lead to 3-2 before surrendering a critical goal to Justin Williams at 7:46 of the third. That final goal helped the Kings regain their suffocating style of play – and they were able to close out the final 12-plus minutes without allowing another Lightning tally.
But ultimately, the first period was the Lightning’s undoing. The Kings scored those three goals, but not because they dominated play throughout. They were able to capitalize on a couple of early Lightning errors. Just 1:33 into the game, Tyler Toffoli stole the puck off the side boards in the Lightning end and had an uncontested path to goalie Ben Bishop. Bishop deflected the shot off the post, but then it ricocheted off his skate and in. The Lightning actually carried play for much of the next 10 minutes – and generated some pretty good looks on Jonathan Quick – but couldn’t tie the game. Then, at 12:30 of the frame, the Lightning lost track of Williams on rush coverage. Trevor Lewis delivered a perfect backhand pass to Williams at the side of the net and he one-timed it past Bishop. The Kings didn’t have many sustained offensive zone shifts in the period, but they did have one in the final minute of the period. The line of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Marion Gaborik did good work holding the puck in the Lightning end. With just over a second left, a Drew Doughty shot found its way in between a screening Brown and Bishop’s stick.
Down 3-0 entering the second, the Lightning pushed back on the opening shift. The Tyler Johnson-Ondrej Palat-Nikita Kucherov line applied heavy pressure in the LA zone and at :58, Kucherov intercepted an errant pass from Jake Muzzin and tapped it into the net. The goal sparked the Bolts, who kept up the attack for the first half of the period. But they failed to score another. Quick made some saves, but the Bolts were guilty of passing up some shots, too. Also, the Kings defended well in front of their goalie. LA blocked several shots and forced others wide of the net. For the second half of the period, the Kings battened the hatches and the Lightning no longer dictated play as much as they did in the early part of the period.
Similar to their start in the second, the Lightning struck again early in the third. Victor Hedman joined the rush and lifted a shot from the left circle over Quick. As was the case after the Kucherov goal, the Lightning applied lots of pressure following the goal. But they couldn’t tie it. Brett Connolly’s rebound chance was blocked by Robin Regehr and Doughty broke up a two-on-one for Johnson and Palat. Moments later, Williams struck for his second goal and the Kings regained momentum.
For parts of each of the three periods, the Lightning skated well, passed the puck crisply and looked dangerous in the offensive zone. But they were never able to sustain it. Too often their passes were slightly off and they couldn’t play their speed game. As a result, the Kings were able to set up defensively and take away much of the Lightning’s time and space to make plays. (The Lightning had 14 shot attempts blocked and 16 others missed the net). The Bolts also had issues with their rush coverage, yielding a number of odd-man rushes to the Kings. And ultimately, as I wrote at the top, spotting LA a 3-0 first period lead was too much to overcome.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Jassen Cullimore):
Williams’ second goal, giving the Kings a 4-2 lead in the third period.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Jassen Cullimore):
1.Justin Williams – Kings. Two goals.
2.Drew Doughty – Kings. GWG. 29:50 TOI.
3.Victor Hedman – Lightning. Goal.