The first period wasn’t even half over Saturday when the Kings received an omen that perhaps things weren’t going to go their way against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
After the teams exchanged early goals, the Kings were on a power play when Anze Kopitar fired a wrister behind Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, toward the far post.
A sure goal, right? Or at least a dangerous rebound to Jake Muzzin, who was perched on the edge of the right faceoff circle.
Instead, Vasilevskiy reached his gloved hand behind him and blindly backhanded the puck, a remarkable no-look save that will live on in highlight shows for the rest of the season.
A minute later Alex Killorn skated out the penalty box, collected a pass Steven Stamkos had bounced off the boards, and beat Kings goalie Darcy Kuemper with a soft wrister, giving Tampa a lead it would never lose in a 4-3 win.
“He made a brilliant stop,” said Kopitar, who skated over to the goalie at the end of the game with a suggestion.
“In my opinion he got a little bit lucky on a few plays, so I told him to go buy a lottery ticket,” Kopitar said with a grin.
But spectacular as that save was, it was Vasilevskiy’s final one, his 44th of the night, that preserved the win. On that one, Vasilevskiy blocked a one-timer from Drew Doughty as the horn sounded, snapping the Kings’ modest three-game winning streak.
“The goalie didn’t see it. He just got lucky on the save,” Doughty said. “He was in good position, so not completely lucky.”
But if Vasilevskiy’s good fortune left the Kings feeling unlucky, for the Lightning it was another sign they’ve been charmed this season, one in which they lead the league in wins, points, goals and goal differential.
Stamkos scored the game’s first goal, beating Kuemper from a tough angle just 65 seconds after the opening faceoff. That was the start of a rough night for Kuemper, who saw his four-game winning streak end when he was pulled 3:12 into the second period after Cedric Paquette deflected the puck in off the goalie’s skate to put Tampa up 3-1.
The game turned into a brawl shortly after Kuemper gave way to Jonathan Quick. Because if Vasilevskiy used his glove like a shortstop, Quick wielded his more like a middleweight champion, pounding a prone Cory Conacher after the two tangled during a scrum in the crease.
Four minutes later, the Kings’ Dustin Brown earned a game misconduct for taking Mikhail Sergachev down with a knee, an open-ice assault that could earn him a suspension. Tampa didn’t wait long to capitalize on that, with Nikita Kucherov scoring on the power play to make it 4-1.
The Kings didn’t quit, though, fighting back with a brilliant third period that kept them into the game until the final shot.
The Kings’ goals came from Jonny Brodzinski, in the first period, and Kopitar and Christian Folin in the third. Brodzinski’s goal was the third in two games for the team’s fourth line.
The Kings are going to need that kind of production from the fourth line since forward Trevor Lewis could miss the rest of the road trip, having returned to Southern California to be evaluated by doctors after he was ridden head-first into the boards in the final minutes of Friday’s win over the Florida Panthers.