LOS ANGELES — The Kings appeared poised to go the distance with the defending champs on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena, but defensive woes and a flat third period proved costly in a 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021.
The Kings have lost back-to-back games in which they have surrendered a dozen goals, their worst two-game aggregate defensive performance this season.
Centers Blake Lizotte and Phillip Danault and wingers Arthur Kaliyev and Alex Iafallo all scored for the Kings, whose two-game slide comes on the heels of a four-game winning streak. Cal Petersen made 19 saves on a night when each team scored on the power play, shorthanded and at even strength at least once, the first time that has happened in a Kings game in nearly 16 years.
Defenseman Victor Hedman had two goals and an assist to pace Tampa Bay, while wingers Nikita Kucherov, Mathieu Joseph and Steven Stamkos each had a goal and an assist and forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare had one goal. Hedman was one of only four defensemen in the Tampa lineup on Tuesday due to a combination of injuries and salary cap issues. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 32 saves for Tampa, which has a 10-game winning streak over the Kings.
“We were a little bit flat early,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “We had some pushback, some energy and we got some emotion into the game into the second period. It wasn’t a lack of respect for the opponent … or over-respect for the opponent, we just made way too many mistakes.”
Tampa sealed the Kings’ fate with a pair of goals in the final five minutes. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh scored with 4:40 left, when he squared up for a shot, freezing the defense and goalie alike before he slipped the puck to Joseph, who hammered it into the gaping net. Stamkos piled on with an empty-net goal with 2:42 remaining.
Danault scored with 55 seconds left, his 10th goal of the season and sixth since Jan. 1.
Just past the midway point of the third period, Tampa Bay went ahead for good when Kucherov found an open Hedman. He glided from the point to the slot and scored his second goal of the night with another authoritative wrist shot for a 4-3 lead.
The second period was perhaps the most exhilarating 20 minutes of hockey played at a Kings home game this season, with a quintet of goals – each team had a short-handed and power-play goal in a span of less than 4½ minutes – a fight and 22 penalty minutes.
“It was a back-and-forth, kind of pinball-like period. It was pretty fun, probably, for both sides and for the fans,” Iafallo said. “It was fun, but the third (period) got away from us.”
Kaliyev’s low shot on the power play deflected in off Hedman’s stick, knotting the score at three, where it remained at the second intermission nearly four minutes later.
Tampa Bay had regained the lead while at a man disadvantage with 5:20 left in the period. Joseph rushed up ice, attracting four defenders as he waited for reinforcement. It arrived in the form of Bellemare, who received the puck with space to spare and deked to his backhand for a goal.
Having already surrendered a short-handed goal, the Lightning salvaged a power-play opportunity 1:19 after the Kings scored while down a man. It was the familiar combination of Stamkos, Hedman and Kucherov on a play that ended in a one-timer from the right faceoff dot by Kucherov. The right wing, who missed 32 games with a lower-body injury that required surgery, has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in six games since returning to the lineup.
The Kings had taken their first lead of the night, shorthanded, off the game’s third consecutive unassisted goal 11:44 into the period. Iafallo stripped the puck from an aloof defenseman, Mikhail Sergachev, deep in the Tampa zone, and whipped a wrist shot past Vasilevskiy for his 11th goal of the season.
The Kings had found an equalizer off the forecheck at the 8:52 mark of the period. Lizotte took center Brayden Point down in the right corner of the Tampa zone, stole the puck and lifted a shot over Vasilevskiy’s left shoulder. Upset about a non-call, defenseman Cal Foote shoved Lizotte and a scrum ensued. On the next shift, Danault fought Point. Danault had fought just twice in seven campaigns prior to this one, but he has had two fighting majors in the past 10 days.
Hedman got Tampa Bay on the board first, 13:17 into the game. The hulking defenseman continued his offensive tear with an individual effort to behold. He pestered center Anze Kopitar, who finished with a minus-three rating, as they went behind the net and then strided into an errant pass. Hedman bolted for a breakaway that culminated in a searing wrist shot that beat Petersen cleanly on his glove side. It was the first goal since Dec. 16 for Hedman, who has 43 points in 41 games, putting him on pace for a career high and making a convincing case for his second Norris Trophy.
“(Hedman) goes both ways and he’s silky through the middle,” Iafallo said, while McLellan said he considers Hedman one of the NHL’s top five players.
The first period could otherwise have been considered low-event action, with the teams combining for just eight shots. But there was a roar from the crowd when winger Brendan Lemieux checked pest extraordinaire Corey Perry, the former Duck and Hart Trophy winner, over the boards and onto the visitors’ bench.
Prior to the game, the Kings paid tribute to Willie O’Ree, who had his number retired by the Boston Bruins earlier in the evening. O’Ree broke the NHL’s color barrier during the 1957-58 season and went on to a long career in the minor leagues, including six seasons with the Los Angeles Blades of the now-defunct Western Hockey League. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.