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LA Kings vs Tampa Bay Lightning Game 16 Recap: Burn Ward

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The Lightning strike thrice in 68 seconds and the Kings simply can’t keep up.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Los Angeles Kings Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

After the first 20 minutes, a post full of crying emojis seemed most appropriate but I am opting to look on the bright side.

If there’s anything that we’ve learned about the Los Angeles Kings so far this season is that they are not lacking in grit, heart, and will. It sounds cheesy, but anyone who watched the 2014 postseason will recall how they never gave up and eventually won the championship. I’m not saying these guys will but it’s nice to see them not get frustrated and pack it in like they have in previous years. Down by two* (three) going into the third period, they came out with their best efforts to try and score. They finally managed to stop the bleeding in the second period. The third was all about trying to solve the defense and get some offense going.

One bright spot of the third period was Oscar Fatenberg getting his first NHL goal of the season.

Unfortunately it wasn’t enough for the Kings to complete the comeback this time. The game was essentially iced when Vladislav Namestnikov scored up high to put the visitors up 5-2.

Make no mistake, the Tampa Bay Lightning are good. Scary good, in fact. And they’re a super elite team. Like, elite doesn’t even begin to describe them. You name it, they’re elite in that area. High scoring forwards? Yup. Excellent two-way power forwards? Yup. Norris-caliber defensemen? Oh yeah. Potential Vezina-candidate? Well, that might actually be stretching it but 23-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy is young and has a very high ceiling. And is also outstanding in net.

In any case, the super elite guys really put one over on the uh not-so-elite home team. The first period was a complete mess with the Bolts scoring three times in a minute. I honestly thought that the Kings had secretly replaced Jonathan Quick with a shooter tutor. The effect was about the same.

It all started when Anze Kopitar was alone in the offensive zone on a 4v4. He had the shot all lined up but was robbed by a diving Peter Budaj (because, of course the former backup-turned-starter-turned-backup again would have a stellar outing against the team who revitalized his career). Nikita Kucherov (evidently out to challenge Brett Hull for 50 goals in 50 games) scooped up the rebound/turnover and was inside the offensive blue line in the blink of an eye and no one in black was even close to catching up to him.

That opened the floodgates as Tampa scored again 34 seconds later. And then again another 34 seconds later to make it 3-0. Things didn’t get any better as 55 seconds after that, Steven Stamkos scored on the power play.

Initially John Stevens took a chance on the third goal being offside and was penalized for it after losing the challenge. The top penalty kill in the league didn’t really stand much of a chance against the number two power play.

Pretty much nothing went right for the Kings in the opening frame. Most of it was that the Bolts were simply that much better, but there was a touch of bad luck as they weren’t able to score despite some good looks in the first few minutes. The biggest issue was that Los Angeles had trouble solving Tampa’s defense until about 37 minutes in. They finally started to understand how to play with them but any momentum they’d gained was halted by a reverse goalie interference call and the end of the period.

So let’s talk about that goalie interference call. That was almost a bad a call as the Auston Matthews penalty shot.

According to Jim Fox, the NHL evidently felt that Dustin Brown pushed Braydon Coburn, thereby preventing Budaj from getting back into place. They felt the first push was incidental—therefore not worthy of a penalty, but no goal, either. Yet, with the same time elapsed and Fantenberg scrumming with Corey Perry, that’s apparently a good goal. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Postgame, even Head Coach John Stevens seemed annoyed at the NHL’s call.

Outside the blue paint? Okay, fine. Inside the blue paint? Well, now it’s just whichever way the wind is blowing in Toronto, it seems.

The irritating thing about the reversed goal is that it came at a critical junction of the game. Who knows what could’ve happened in the third period if the deficit was only two instead of one? It’s a moot point, but it’s still incredibly aggravating. Is the NHL trying to increase goal scoring or not? How exasperating.

In the second period, it seemed like all the Kings could do to just stem the bleeding. Unlike most other teams, Jon Cooper’s team does not sit on their lead. Much like they did against San Jose the night before, they kept pushing hard, making it feel like one, long, extended penalty kill. Budaj didn’t see much action but he was sharp when called upon. He stoned Nic Dowd on the doorstep shortly before Kopitar hit two posts (without scoring).

Finally, Tyler Toffoli broke through and ended the shutout at 17:31. That goal breathed life anew into the Kings. They owned the rest of the period (all two and a half minutes) and even scored again. Kinda. (See above)

The third period started off the most even of the night. LA pushed hard but Tampa was ready for them. Less than nine minutes in, Fantenberg found the back of the net but it was all Brown.

Is it still too early to say that Dustin Brown is back?

The Kings did have a late power play at the end of the third but that went nowhere and then Quick, being who he is, took a tripping penalty.

OK so it wasn’t their best game by far. There are still a lot of positives to take away, especially this early in the season.

Good: Toffoli has quietly tied Kopitar for the team’s leading goal scorer; Quick was incredible in the second period; Fantenberg became the fourth different King this season to score his first ever NHL goal.

Bad: Pretty much everything else.

My own personal opinion is that the Kings are nowhere near talented enough to legitimately contend with the best teams in the NHL. For goodness sake, they’re still regularly playing Andy Andreoff on the fourth line.

However, they did show that they can still play an uptempo game at a quick pace and should definitely get back to the playoffs this year. And this was missing two of their speediest players—Jeff Carter (injured) and Adrian Kempe (game time decision, wasn’t feeling well). Once they get those guys back, there will be more balance and more skill in the lineup.