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Lightning fighting to stay in playoff mix

Tampa Bay dodging obstacles after injuries to key players

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- The hallway outside the Tampa Bay Lightning dressing room sounded a lot like a construction zone at Staples Center on Monday afternoon.

All that was missing was a cordless circular saw and a nail gun or two.

This was during the arena changeover period after Tampa Bay defeated the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 in the afternoon, to the Los Angeles Clippers-Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game at night.

You had to listen closely while Lightning coach Jon Cooper passed along his observations over the din in the noisy hallway. And everyone had to step carefully around the workers and the machinery.

The chaos was almost a metaphor for the Lightning season.

Tampa Bay has become awfully skilled at staying afloat in the face of constant adversity - including the loss of injured forward Steven Stamkos - and dodging obstacles.

The Lightning, starting a six-game trip, practiced on Sunday in El Segundo and announced that forward Ryan Callahan (lower-body injury) would be out for about four weeks. Stamkos is out indefinitely after tearing the lateral meniscus in his right knee two months ago.

The here-we-go-again moment Monday was the loss of standout defenseman Victor Hedman, who was ill and could not play against the Kings.

That would be All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman, their second-leading scorer, and his 38 points.

"It's happened so often this year, you kind of don't blink an eye," Cooper said. "But that was unfortunate. Then we found out (Kings captain Anze) Kopitar wasn't playing, like two minutes after that. That's a 1-for-1.

"Fans pay to see guys like Victor Hedman and Anze Kopitar play. It's unfortunate they couldn't. But it's still an entertaining hockey game."

Video: TBL@LAK: Johnson one-times Drouin's feed past Budaj

Like Hedman, Kopitar was sick. Unlike Hedman, Kopitar never made it out on the ice for warmups.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Kopitar had fallen ill on Sunday. Cooper, meanwhile, wasn't sure if Hedman would be able to play on Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

"He wasn't doing too well today," Cooper said. "I wish we had a day in between. He was feeling fine [Sunday] night.

"What did Kopitar have? Maybe they went to the same restaurant."

Things went from bad to worse for the Lightning in the opening minutes. Goaltender Ben Bishop played the puck behind the net and lost it to one of the Kings' bottom-six forwards, grinder Kyle Clifford, who capitalized and jammed it inside the left post, at 8:33 of the first period.

But that was the only goal Bishop, who faced 32 shots, allowed against the Kings. And the Lightning managed to stymie the Kings with their speed, taking away time and space.

"He was huge," Lightning forward Brian Boyle said of Bishop. "He's so good at playing the puck and he's so good making outlet passes, stopping forechecks. I'm sure he didn't see it going that way when they got their first goal, but there's no panic.

"We know he's going to continue to leave the net and make plays, and he was big with some big, big saves, point-blank. Two or three in the slot in the first."

Video: TBL@LAK: Boyle chips home rebound off Kings defender

Bishop missed nine games because of a lower-body injury and has won twice since returning, also defeating the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 12, stopping 24 of 26 shots. He received support in the form of goals from Tyler Johnson and Boyle.

Boyle's was the game-winner, at 18:47 of the second, when he banked it in off Kings forward Dustin Brown. Johnson made it 1-1 at 14:33 of the first, off a brilliant pass from Jonathan Drouin, who spun and lost Kings forward Tanner Pearson along the boards.

"They're a good defensive team, so you've got that one second, that split second to make the play," Drouin said.

Video: TBL@LAK: Bishop makes a pair of nice saves on Lewis

Those split seconds on this trip could help determine the Lightning's fate in their bid to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Drouin acknowledged the importance of this long swing. Tampa Bay (21-20-4) is four points out of a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

"It's not panic, but it's pretty close to panic," Drouin said. "So this is a big road trip coming up for us. Guys have to step up, and tonight we did and it was a really good road win."

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