Steven Stamkos celebrated his birthday in a big way.
The center, who turned 22 years old on Tuesday, scored his league-leading 35th goal of the season, but it wasn’t enough to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning, which fell 3-1 to the Los Angeles Kings in front of a crowd of 16,489 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The Lightning, which had won six of seven and which entered the contest with at least a point in seven straight games, lost for the first time in regulation since Jan. 15.
“I thought we had a lot of quality chances, especially early in the game,” Stamkos said. “But we knew it was going to be a tight-checking game and that’s what it was, but we didn’t find a way. So, it’s on us.”
Anze Kopitar, Kyle Clifford and Dustin Penner each had goals for the Kings, which snapped a two-game losing streak.
Jonathan Quick, who came into the game with an all-time career mark of 2-0-0 against Tampa Bay with a goals-against average of 0.38, made 24 saves.
After being subjected to heavy pressure in its own defensive end, Los Angeles went up 2-1 when Clifford beat Dwayne Roloson through the five hole at 10:16 of the second.
On the previous sequence, Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman sent a shot that ricocheted off the net, causing the goal horn to go off prematurely and perhaps drown out any indication by Roloson that the penalty was about to end.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Roloson said. “I was trying to get the guys’ attention so you’d have to ask the guys up front. I was just focusing on what was going on.”
Just as the penalty expired, Clifford skated out of the box, took a pass from Rob Scuderi, and entered into the zone all alone on the Lightning net minder before zipping a wrist shot through the five hole.
“I knew he was coming out of the box,” Scuderi said. “But it was more of an area pass than anything. He was real smart by going right to the middle of the ice. I just kind of threw it up there and it was mostly just about him getting there.”
Roloson, making his first start since earning a 4-3 win at Phoenix on Jan. 21, stopped 17 of 20 shots on the night.
Los Angeles improved to 18-0-1 this season when scoring three or more goals. The Kings were also coming off back-to-back road losses at St. Louis and Carolina, in which they were outscored 3-1.
Kopitar opened the scoring after tipping in Justin Williams’ shot from above the right circle that put the Kings up 1-0 at 2:47.
Stamkos then tied it when he took a beautiful feed from Teddy Purcell at the top of the crease and tapped it home to draw the Lightning even at 7:49 of the second.
The Bolts forward now has scored a goal against every opposing NHL team during his three and a half-year career.
Stamkos also had a pair of good scoring chances stopped by Quick during the first period. Martin St. Louis, who saw a nine-game point streak end, just missed finding the net on a late-second backhander after making a nifty move through his legs from below the right circle.
“He was voted to the All-Star team for a good reason,” Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said of his goaltender. “If you look at it, the two goalies with the best save percentages are the Rangers’ and our guys. That usually defines the goaltender.”
Penner increased the lead with a wrist shot that made it 3-1 with 2:14 to go in the middle frame. He sent in a shot from the slot that beat Roloson high over the glove for just his fifth of the year.
Tampa Bay fell to 16-7-2-2 all-time against the Kings, who have now won the last three games between the teams.