The Tampa Bay Lightning earned several victories on Thursday night, even if none of them had a direct impact on the team’s improvement in the standings.
Tampa Bay, who entered the contest tied with Los Angeles in the NHL points standings, gave one of the best efforts of the season, albeit in a physical 1-0 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings.
Mike Smith, who entered the contest with a 4-0-0 record and a perfect career record against the Kings, made 25 saves on 26 shots and nearly completed his 11th career shutout, yielding the game’s lone goal to Justin Williams, who caught a lucky break to open the game’s scoring at 5:20 in the third period.
As Tampa Bay was in transition, an outlet pass at center ice deflected off forward Dana Tyrell’s skate and caromed onto the stick of Kings forward Ryan Smyth. Smyth took it from there, delivering a pass to Williams in the low slot, who spun around before wristing one glove-side past the Lightning net minder for what proved to be the game-deciding goal.
The loss was Smith’s first of the season, while Los Angeles beat Tampa Bay at home for just the second time in the series’ history behind a 24-save effort by Jonathan Quick.
“You have to get traffic in front of him in order to beat him,” Lightning forward Adam Hall said of the Kings net minder. “He’s just so good.”
As was Smith, who made several key stops at crucial moments of the game including a spectacular pad save on Anze Kopitar midway through the second period. Despite being outshot in the contest, the Lightning net minder still shut down in front of the net, negating chances through traffic and making huge saves on all three opposing power-play opportunities.
He even got some help, as the Lightning held a 36-29 advantage in hits, recorded 13 blocked shots and was perfect on the penalty kill, going 3-for-3 which included eliminating a five-minute major penalty in the first period to kill any momentum early on.
“It was huge. I think it gave us momentum a little bit,” Lightning defenseman Mathieu Roy said of killing off the opposing chance. “After that we moved the puck better, got going a lot faster and started taking pucks to the net.”
For each Lightning scoring chance, however, Quick had an answer.
First, the Kings goaltender stopped Martin St. Louis’ backhand on a rebound attempt. Then, Quick denied Steven Stamkos of his potential league-leading 11th goal when he deflected a high shot off his mask and out of play. Vincent Lecavalier tried to deke the net minder all alone in front, but Quick made Williams’ goal stand up with another clutch save.
Tampa Bay moved to 7-3-2 on the season, while remaining atop the Southeast Division with 16 points, and lost the final half of a back-to-back set for just the first time this season as well as in the team’s last five tries.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, won its third straight, while Tampa Bay failed to gain at least a point for just the first time in its last four.
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