LOS ANGELES — What many Lightning fans will remember from Thursday’s game - what will pop on the highlight shows - are the record four goals scored in a terrific, two-minute, two second stretch midway through the first period.
But what shouldn’t be forgotten is the fabulous save by veteran backup Peter Budaj right before it. The blocker stop might have set it all up in a 5-2 victory over the Kings in front of a stunned Staples Center.
"That was a game-changer for us," coach Jon Cooper said.
Midway through the first, Kings rookie Alex Iafallo - a former Lightning development camp invitee - found Anze Kopitar all alone in front. But Budaj, returning to where his career was resurrected last season, whipped around to get a piece of the shot. Seconds later, Nikita Kucherov scored on a breakaway, and the rout was on.
"Budaj’s save was remarkable," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "I thought for sure that was in. I think everyone in the buildingd thought that was in. A few seconds later, Kuch scores and we took off from there."
Kucherov started a string of four goals in 2:02, the fastest four goals in franchise history, topping the four in 3:02 Oct. 28, 2002. You have the feeling it won’t be the last record this team breaks, the Lightning (13-2-2) playing on another level than its peers.
"I do think they’re the best team in the league," Kings coach John Stevens said.
For two straight nights, Tampa Bay faced really good Western Conference teams. And the Lightning dominated both, outscoring them a combined 10-3.
"I can’t remember the last time we came in here and played this well against these two teams back to back," wing Alex Killorn said. "Everything is clicking."
Kucherov scored his 16th goal in 17 games. Captain Steven Stamkos scored his eighth, on a vintage power-play one timer, adding to his league-leading point total. Hedman and Killorn each scored, as did Vladislav Namestnikov, his third in the past two nights. At one point, the Lightning was outshooting the defensively stout Kings 32-12. The game could have gotten ugly in the second period had it not been for the stellar play of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who kept the Kings within striking distance.
Los Angeles, a proud team, didn’t give up, scoring late in the second and nearly pulling within two in the final minute of the second. But a Kopitar goal was overturned due to goaltender interference, the second significant challenge to go the Lightning’s way in the game.
"I’m totally confused on the goalie interference penalty," Stevens said. "I don’t have a clue what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. If the league wants to put a seminar together, I will attend it, because I’m more confused now than I was at the start of the year.
"I may sound sarcastic – I’m confused. I don’t know. Help me, please, because I don’t have a clue."
The Kings eventually cut the Lightning lead to two midway through the third. But they got no closer, with Budaj shutting the door, finishing with 22 saves for his first win in three starts this season.
"He did a (heck) of a job," Kucherov said. "Every save he made, he gave us confidence. He was the best player today."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.