The Tampa Bay Lightning had a franchise-record 10-game win streak at home coming into Saturday’s meeting with defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles.
That mattered little to a Kings team fighting for its playoff lives and losers of four in a row on the road.
Los Angeles scored three goals in the first period and held on through an extended Lightning rally for a 4-2 win in front of a sellout crowd of 19,204 at Amalie Arena.
The Bolts’ home record falls to 21-5-1.
Tampa Bay (33-16-5, 71 points) entered Saturday’s game having scored the opening goal in four straight, but Los Angeles (22-18-12, 56 points) quickly jumped on the Bolts, ringing the net at 1:33 of the first period. Kings center Tyler Toffoli intercepted a pass in the Lightning zone and skated in on Bolts goalie Ben Bishop unopposed. His backhanded shot from in front hit Bishop and trickled over the goal line to put Los Angeles up 1-0.
The Kings went ahead 2-0 following a well-timed centering feed from Trevor Lewis along the left boards for a hard-charging Justin Williams in the slot. Williams met the puck in stride and tipped it past Bishop to increase Los Angeles’ lead.
The Kings’ third goal was a backbreaker, All-Star defenseman Drew Doughty shoveling a puck from the left circle toward the net that beat a screened Bishop with less than two seconds remaining in the first for a 3-0 advantage.
“The story of the game was no matter how we want to say it or what questions we want to ask, we’re down 3-0 and couldn’t dig ourselves out of that hole,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.
Bishop was pulled after giving up three goals on nine first-period shots, making way for rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy to open the second.
“It’s one of those games,” Bishop said. “I’d like to make one of those saves to keep the team in it. Didn’t happen tonight, but it’s a long season. I’m not going to lose sleep over it, just turn the page and get ready for tomorrow.”
Vasilevskiy stopped 19 shots and kept the Kings off the scoreboard in the second, but the Bolts couldn’t make up the three-goal deficit.
“You can’t really pin it on Ben,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You give up three, so naturally probably people are going to look at the box score and say, ‘Bish wasn’t very good.’ That wasn’t the case. They had a couple seeing-eye singles that went in, so decided to pull him out and see if the other guy could give us a chance. It wasn’t Ben’s night.”
Tampa Bay broke through early in the second period, the Triplets line putting continuous pressure on Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (26 saves), capped by Nikita Kucherov’s unassisted wrist shot from in close to bring the Lightning within two.
Kucherov earned his 19th goal of the season. The Russian hadn’t scored in 2015 until an empty-net tally on Thursday in Dallas. He now has two goals in his last two games.
The Lightning inched closer early in the third, Victor Hedman scoring his seventh goal of the season at 1:34 to make it 3-2. Ryan Callahan’s cross-ice pass from the right boards hit Hedman in stride as he skated toward goal. Hedman settled the bouncing puck and beat Quick top shelf stick side with a well-places wrist shot.
Callahan picked up his 22nd assist of 2014-15.
“You never get surprised by this team,” Hedman said. “We’ve battled a lot throughout the season with injuries and everything. We felt like we could come back, but, obviously, it wasn’t enough.”
Los Angeles shut the door a little over six minutes later, though, Williams scoring his second of the night by sniping a shot from the right circle over Vasilevskiy’s glove to put the Kings back up by two.
Moments earlier, the Lightning worked a 2-on-1 with Palat and Johnson, but Doughty slid to the ice and drove Palat to the side to prevent the Bolts from tying the score.
Williams second marker was the dagger that snapped a three-game losing skid for the Kings, winners of two of the last three Stanley Cups.
“We kind of lost a little bit of life there after that,” Cooper said.
Tampa Bay drops to 10-4-2 versus the Western Conference.
The Lightning will complete a back-to-back set Sunday against, points-wise, the top team in the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks, at Amalie Arena (5 p.m. puck drop). The Bolts then travel to Central Division leader Nashville on Tuesday.