The last time the Tampa Bay Lightning faced the Los Angeles Kings, a 4-2 loss in Tampa nine days ago, the Kings jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening period.
Tampa Bay made sure its focus was locked in at the start Monday night.
Unfortunately, the rest of the game didn’t follow suit.
The Lightning notched the game’s first goal in the opening period, but Los Angeles tallied one in the second and two more in the third to score a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over the Bolts.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Kings (26-18-12, 64 points) have now won five in a row to climb closer to playoff contention.
Tampa Bay (35-18-6, 76 points) has losses in three of its last four and slips two points behind Montreal – which beat Detroit 2-0 on Monday – in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division.
“I thought it was a game that we could get points out of,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “…It was tough, you give up the second one, which we eventually made up but the third one was a backbreaker.”
Jeff Carter’s goal 13:59 into the final period proved to be the game-winner. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty carried down the left wing, and his accurate pass on the back post for Nolan was redirected into the net by the Kings center for a 3-1 advantage.
For the second-straight game on its five-day, 10-day West Coast trip, Tampa Bay opened the game aggressively and was rewarded with the game’s opening score on Nikita Nesterov’s first goal of his NHL career. The Triplets created the scoring chance, Ondrej Palat’s superior stickhandling allowing him to get a shot on Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick’s net from in close as he was being pushed down. Quick made the initial stop, but the rebound bounced to open ice at Quick’s right where Nesterov charged in to wrist the puck into the open goal.
Palat earned the lone assist, his 30th of the season.
Nesterov’s score came 12:11 into the opening period.
“He’s deserved it,” Cooper said. “He’s put himself in positions to score the last few games, and he hasn’t had one. It was good to see him get one.”
The Bolts one-goal lead stood until 7:04 into the second period when Anze Kopitar recorded his 12th goal of the season. The Kings’ Trevor Lewis sent a pass ahead for Kopitar that split two Lightning defensemen and hit Kopitar in stride. Kopitar, behind the Bolts defense, snapped a shot over Vasilevskiy’s leg pad and below his blocker to make it 1-1.
“I thought for the most part we played pretty good, it’s just unfortunate that the mistakes we did make they capitalized on,” Lightning center Tyler Johnson said.
Jordan Nolan gave Los Angeles the lead for good 3:36 into the final period. Nolan took possession of the puck on the left boards and skated unopposed into the slot before backhanding a shot over Andrei Vasilevskiy’s glove to put the Kings up 2-1.
“They made some strong plays, they’re a big strong team,” Cooper said. “I think we got a little bit tired at the end, which is understandable.”
Vasilevskiy made 25 saves in his seventh career NHL start but gave up three for his second loss of the season.
Tampa Bay couldn’t convert a couple chances in the closing seconds to tie the game though.
The Lightning continue on their journey through the Western Conference against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday following a day off Tuesday. The Bolts fell to 12-6-3 versus the West this season.
“Now you’re playing at the time of the year when teams are digging their heels in because its playoff push time and we’ve caught a desperate team in the Kings, we caught a desperate team in the Sharks, we happened to get one of those games, and now we’ve got to go in and play one of the best teams in the league,” Cooper said.