Los Angeles Kings at Tampa Bay Lightning game preview
TV: NBC Sports Network
TIME: 7:30 p.m.
TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning are scrambling to get back into the playoff picture, but they do so Tuesday against a Los Angeles Kings team that has won five of its last six games.
Tampa Bay (23-24-6), which finds itself in last place in the Eastern Conference, is coming off a shootout win against Anaheim. The Lightning reside six points behind Toronto for third place in the division, and seven points behind Philadelphia for the last wild card in the Eastern Conference.
Los Angeles (27-22-4) is the first wild card in the Western Conference, having won five straight before Sunday’s 5-0 loss at the Washington Capitals.
A big part of that is goaltender Peter Budaj, who was named as the NHL’s Third Star of the Week after posting a 1.62 goals-against average, leading Los Angeles to three wins out of the All-Star break. Budaj ranks third in the NHL with a 2.02 goals-against average, filling in admirably since starter Jonathan Quick was lost to a groin injury in the season opener in October.
“Everybody wants to play, and I’m very thankful for that,” Budaj told the Kings’ official site of his ability to handle a larger workload than most had expected for him. “Obviously you’ve got to take care of your body. You’ve got to be smart. Eating right, sleeping right, you know, to recover when you have a chance to recover.”
The Kings now have the NHL’s fourth-best defense, allowing just 2.4 goals per game, and one of their strengths is a penalty kill unit that now ranks sixth in the league, stopping 83 percent of opponents’ power plays. Los Angeles has killed off 20 straight power plays over the last seven games.
The Lightning had at one point the NHL’s No. 2 power play, but that too has struggled of late, going just 4-for-36 over the last 10 games. Tampa Bay overcame a 1-for-7 night on the power play in Sunday’s win against Anaheim, but it has dropped to eighth in the league, converting 21 percent on the season. In the last 10 games, the Lightning has scored more than three goals just once, a big part of why they’re 2-4-2 in their last eight.
One bright spot has been 20-year-old rookie center Brayden Point, who has scored two goals in three games since returning after missing a month with injury. In Sunday’s win, he had the first shot in shootout and scored, and coach Jon Cooper is glad to have him back in the lineup.
“He’s stepped right in and he’s just been a jolt of energy for us,” Cooper said Monday. “For someone to have that type of impact on our team, that early in his career, there’s nothing but good signs ahead for him.”
The Lightning, who won 2-1 at Los Angeles on Jan. 16, wrap up a four-game homestand with the Kings, then open a four-game road swing Friday at Minnesota.
Los Angeles finishes its four-game road trip Thursday at Florida.