LOS ANGELES — For Lightning veteran backup G Peter Budaj, Thursday’s start against the Kings was something special.
Had it not been for the Kings, Budaj, 35, may not still be in the league.
Two years ago, Budaj thought his pro career might have been over, having lost all 15 of his starts for Winnipeg’s AHL affiliate, St. John’s. He received no offers in free agency, but then the Kings brought him in on a camp tryout.
"They gave me a chance when nobody else would," Budaj said. "This will always be a special place for me."
After a bounce-back season with the Kings’ AHL affiliate, Budaj entered last season as the third goaltender before injuries to starter Jonathan Quick and backup Jeff Zatkoff thrust him into the No. 1 role. Budaj was stellar, among the league leaders in goals-against average, before getting dealt to Tampa Bay in February in the Ben Bishop trade.
Budaj then signed a two-year, $2.05 million deal in the summer to be Andrei Vasilevskiy’s backup, giving him security he never thought he’d have at this point in his career.
"Thank God everything fell into place for me," Budaj said. "It was pretty special the way things worked out. That’s why you never know what’s going to happen in hockey. I was very blessed that everything worked out in my favor. Sometimes you don’t know how quick things can change."
When RW Nikita Kucherov scored his 15th goal in the Lightning’s 16th game Wednesday, he became one of the quickest players to complete that feat since 2000-01. Also on the list:
• Steven Stamkos (16 in 2010-11)
• Dany Heatley (15 in 2005-06)
• Daniel Alfredsson (15 in 2005-06)
• Simon Gagne (12 in 2005-06)
Kings rookie F Alex Iafallo should be familiar to Lightning fans. He participated in Tampa Bay’s development camp in 2015 and 2016. Thursday, he was on the top line for Los Angeles against the Lightning.
"It’s pretty crazy," he said.
Iafallo said he enjoyed his time with Tampa but found a better opportunity in Los Angeles as an undrafted free agent from the Minnesota Duluth.
"Tampa was awesome. They were great to me," Iafallo said. "I was still in school at the time, but I learned a lot."
• Coach Jon Cooper earned his 200th NHL win Wednesday against the Sharks, joining John Tortorella as the only coaches to accomplish that feat in Tampa Bay.
• Ryan Callahan (lower body) didn’t play; he’s day-to-day. He took warmups, stretching his left leg several times. Gabriel Dumont took his place. Cedric Paquette (undisclosed) remained out, but Sunday in Anaheim is possible. D Andrej Sustr was scratched.
• Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov get the headlines, but don’t sleep on linemate Vladislav Namestnikov, whose two goals Wednesday gave him seven for the season, three shy of his total last season.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.