LOS ANGELES — Just as the Lightning was ready to start a road trip that might make or break its season, the banged-up team was dealt another blow.
Top defenseman Victor Hedman, the one player Tampa Bay could ill afford to lose, felt too sick during warmups to play against the Kings on Monday.
"We were shocked," center Tyler Johnson said.
Quipped center Brian Boyle: "It's like, 'Ugh, here we go again.' "
That's why the Lightning's 2-1 win over the Kings was so impressive and, potentially, galvanizing. Without Hedman, Tampa Bay (21-20-4) somehow had one of its best defensive efforts. It provided a formula for how to navigate this six-game trip, which could go a long way toward deciding its playoff fate.
It won't get easier tonight, with a matchup against the Pacific Division-leading Ducks.
"Guys have to step up — we have to," wing Jonathan Drouin said. "It's not panic (mode), but it's pretty close to panic. This is a big road trip, guys have to step up, and we did Monday."
Drouin dazzled and was arguably the best player on the ice. He had four shots, three hits and a highlight-reel assist on Johnson's tying goal, extending his points streak to a season-high five games. Drouin shook Tanner Pearson with a stunning stop and spin, feeding Johnson on the back post.
"Not many guys can do that," Boyle said.
But the game was won with will as much as skill. The Lightning racked up a season-high 41 hits and 20 blocked shots. Defenseman Luke Witkowski set the tone with his opening-minute hit and fight with Kyle Clifford. And everyone else followed suit, Tampa Bay playing the kind of blue-collar game coaches have preached for weeks.
It limited the Kings' quality chances, building off momentum it gained in a two-game homestand Thursday and Friday. After allowing 22 goals in a four-game losing streak, the Lightning has given up six in the past three. Anton Stralman stepped up without his partner Hedman and provided a 25-minute monster performance. Andrej Sustr stepped up with four blocked shots in 21:53. The Kings' only goal came off a rare Ben Bishop puck-playing gaffe behind the net.
"We played a full 200-foot game, didn't give them too much," Bishop said.
Boyle gave the Lightning the lead for good with less than two minutes to go in the second, pouncing on a rebound after a 2-on-1.
And the penalty kill, much-maligned in the first half of the season, came up big in going 3-for-3, including a key one early in the third. "When you do that, you're giving yourself a chance to win," coach Jon Cooper said.
The chances of Hedman returning tonight are questionable, Cooper saying he "wasn't doing too well." But if Tampa Bay plays like it did Monday, it has a shot.
"Everybody gamed this one out," Cooper said. "They played extremely hard against a big, strong, physical L.A. team. It was fun to watch."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected].
First Period—1, Los Angeles, Clifford 3, 8:33. 2, Tampa Bay, Johnson 13 (Witkowski, Drouin), 14:33. Penalties—Clifford, LA, Major (fighting), 1:19; Witkowski, TB, Major (fighting), 1:19; Forbort, LA, (tripping), 1:47; Paquette, TB, (hooking), 9:51.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Boyle 11 (Kucherov, Filppula), 18:47. Penalties—Witkowski, TB, (cross checking), 4:09.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Garrison, TB, (tripping), 3:49; Dowd, LA, (slashing), 14:38. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 13-11-5—29. Los Angeles 12-9-11—32. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 2; Los Angeles 0 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Bishop 11-10-2 (32 shots-31 saves). Los Angeles, Budaj 20-12-3 (29-27). A—18,230 (18,118). T—2:29. Referees—Chris Schlenker, Brad Watson. Linesmen—Ryan Galloway, Vaughan Rody.