The Los Angeles Kings managed to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in both of their matchups last year. One of those was road win in a crucial 8-0 streak for the Kings that kept their playoff hopes alive. The Kings played a very sound game similar to their contest last spring, but Ben Bishop was nigh unbeatable the whole game.
The Kings got off to a slow start in the first, and allowed the Lightning to dictate play and the shot counter. They also gave the Lightning two power play opportunities, one of which was an unlucky break as Jake Muzzin tried to play an airborne puck. The other penalty was an offensive zone trip by Marian Gaborik, the type of penalty we've learned to embrace as Kings fans. Fortunately, LA was solid on both penalty kills and didn't give up much in the way of chances or shots. That is something we were used to before this road trip began.
The Kings took their third, and final, penalty early in the second with another puck over the glass penalty courtesy of Brayden McNabb, who simply misjudged his attempted zone clear off the glass. It was a situation where he was not under imminent pressure, so it certainly fell to him to hold onto the puck and make a better play. Still, a game in which they only take three penalties is a good game. The Lightning have traditionally been a disciplined team, and that continued tonight as they took no penalties.
The rest of the second period, however, is a different story. The Kings were able to establish themselves in the offensive zone for longer periods and gave the Lightning great difficulty in getting past the blue line with possession. Many of the Lightning's plays simply led to another immediate LA breakout. Andy Andreoff saw some time on the third line with Dustin Brown and Nick Shore for the second game of the row, and was a beneficiary of their good play together by generating some scoring chances.
Scoring chances and shot attempts had tipped in the Kings favor to draw even after two periods, and the Kings started the third right where they left off, controlling most of the play and getting the better of the Lightning. Unfortunately for the Kings, Ben Bishop was stellar all game and turned away several quality chances from LA's top three lines.
Tampa Bay finally cracked the scoring drought six minutes into the third period when the line of Tyler Johnson was out against LA's fourth line. This is the same uneven matchup that Detroit exploited for two goals, and may be some of the motivation for moving Trevor Lewis to the fourth line center position and utilizing Andreoff as a third line winger. Johnson was simply given too much space to skate between the circles, and Muzzin was unable to get around another Lightning player to sufficiently challenge the puck.
The goal only served to boster LA, however, and they proceeded to heavily pressure the Lightning for the next nine minutes until the work of Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Milan Lucic was finally able to solve the Bishop puzzle. The Kings got the puck out high to Milan Lucic who patiently waited for traffic in front of Bishop to prevent a clear view of the shot. The puck ended up bouncing between the leg pads of Bishop and fluttering into the goal. In the last several games, his play has been a serious contributor to that line, rather than simply being a passenger to the greatness of Carter and Toffoli.
Pressure continued from the Kings after the goal until the very end of the third period, who ended up outshooting the Lightning in both of the final two periods. What followed was an extremely exciting overtime, the shining moment of which was a beautiful breakout pass that followed a save by Jonathan Quick. Quick launched it off the right side boards where Anze Kopitar picked it up and found himself all alone with Ben Bishop. Kopitar slowed down and attempted to tuck the puck around Bishop's left pad, but simply could not get sufficient control over the puck after Bishop got an initial piece of it.
What followed the overtime period will be a familiar story for many Kings fans, with the ultimate result being a shootout loss. Kopitar scored on the five-hole on his shootout attempt, making him 2/2 on the year. Carter and Toffoli were both unsuccessful however, and goals from Jonathan Marchessault and Valtteri Filppula book-ended Tampa Bay's attempts. The last goal by Filpulla left Quick looking rather silly, as he fell on his face attempting to control a rebound off of his backside.
Still, it was an effort the Kings have to be pleased with, and head coach Darryl Sutter said as much in the post game comments. The Kings played well and were the better team for the latter two periods. Although they finished the game with a slight edge in scoring changes (27 to 23 according to War-On-Ice.com), they dominated high scoring chances 16 to 6. The Kings also had no egregious defensive breakdowns, with diligent back-checking preventing any true 2-on-1 scenarios.
The Kings also have to be happy with the improved play of Kopitar and Marian Gaborik as of late. The combo put eight shots on goal together and created as many scoring chances, three of which were high danger from Gaborik. Christian Ehrhoff also seems to have regained the trust of Sutter, getting much more ice time than his partner Jamie McBain. He was also trusted with a minute and a half of short-handed play time. Sutter once again relied on the pairing of Muzzin with Drew Doughty in the crucial closing minutes. Muzzin has been routinely getting the second most ice time despite being on the second defensive pairing.
Overall, it was probably the Kings' best loss of the season, from a play standpoint. Occasionally unsolvable goalies happen, and that's certainly not unfamiliar territory for Bishop. The Kings close out their road trip with half of the possible points, but fortunately are still first in the division thanks to a San Jose Sharks loss. See, we can end on a positive note.