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Lightning retire Lecavalier’s jersey number, squeak by Kings for 2nd straight win

Before Saturday’s showdown with the Los Angeles Kings, the Tampa Bay Lightning took time before the game to honor one of the greats in franchise history. Former captain Vinny Lecavalier saw his #4 retired and raised to the rafters in a special ceremony before the puck dropped between the Lightning and the Kings.

Attended by Lecavalier’s family, current Lightning ownership and management, a group of former Lightning players, and thousands of fans at Amalie Arena, the ceremony was an incredible remembrance of a Lightning legend who has made a tremendous impact both on and off the ice in Tampa Bay.

Once it was time to drop the puck for this game, however, it was a current Lightning goaltender who saved the day for the Lightning against the Kings. And we could very well be seeing a new legend cemented in the Tampa Bay area in the years to come.

Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside 44 shots, including a dramatic save on Drew Doughty right before the final buzzer and a spectacular Save of the Year candidate on Anze Kopitar as the Lightning (37-14-3) held on for an exciting, dramatic 4-3 win over the Kings (30-20-5) at Amalie Arena.

Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, Cedric Paquette, and Nikita Kucherov tallied the goals for the Lightning, who won their second straight while sweeping the two-game season series against L.A. The Kings had won three in a row and five of their previous six heading into this contest, including a 3-1 win in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers the night before.

A fast-paced opening period saw the Lightning jump out to a great start.

After retiring one former captain’s jersey number, the team’s current captain, Stamkos who beat Kings goalie Darcy Kuemper with a sharp-angled wrist shot from the left circle for his 21st of the season. Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson collected the helpers as the Lightning led 1-0 just 1:05 into the contest. It also marked the second straight game in which Stamkos scored after only picking up two goals in the previous 15 games.

Over the next few minutes, Tampa Bay kept most of the action in the Kings’ zone. Unfortunately for the Bolts, that wasn’t enough to keep L.A. off the scoreboard. Jonny Brodzinski notched his fourth goal of the year when he took a pass from Andy Andreoff and ripped one past Vasilevskiy at the 5:02 mark, tying the game 1-1 on L.A.’s first shot of the game.

Just over two-and-a-half minutes later, the Kings received the first power play of the game when Killorn went to the penalty box for interference. Vasilesvkiy proceeded to take over, making multiple stops during Los Angeles’s power play. This included the following save, which instantly became the leader in the clubhouse for Save of the Year in the NHL.

Yeah, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. I’ll wait while you pick your jaw up off the floor. That’s Vasilevskiy robbing Kopitar with a behind-the-back glove save that will be on the highlight reels for years to come.

That sensational save left the building buzzing and it gave the Lightning life.

Just after Killorn’s penalty ended, he stepped out of the penalty box and received a breakout pass from Stamkos. Killorn sprinted down the ice on a breakaway, beating Kuemper for his ninth of the season. The Lightning now owned a 2-1 lead at the 9:45 mark, bringing the Amalie Arena crowd into hysterics. They would hold onto this lead despite being out-shot 18-10 in the opening period. While the Lightning didn’t play poorly in the opening period, they generated far fewer quality chances than Los Angeles as the period wore on.

Tampa Bay would continue to add to their lead despite the game taking a nasty turn.

Cedric Paquette, seeing the ice for the first time in five games, banked a shot into the net off Kuemper for a 3-1 Lightning lead at the 3:12 mark. That marked the end of Kuemper’s night, as he was pulled in favor of Jonathan Quick after allowing three goals on 14 shots. The second period would continue in much the same way as the first, with Los Angeles getting more shots and quality scoring chances.

Halfway through the period, the game got chippy quickly. The third line of Cory Conacher, Vlad Namestnikov, and Adam Erne punctuated a solid shift by getting into a massive pile outside of the Kings’ crease. Quick began throwing punches at Conacher, resulting in both players taking coincidental roughing minors. The fracas even prompted Vasilevskiy to drift towards center ice, making those watching wonder if a goalie fight might be in the works. That wouldn’t be the case, but the game got angrier as Tyler Toffoli later cross-checked Yanni Gourde, leading to a scrum and a Lightning earning a power play.

Tampa Bay came up empty on that power play, but moments later, the Kings crossed the line from aggressive to dirty.

With 5:30 left on the clock, Kings forward Dustin Brown caught Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev with a dirty knee-on-knee hit that will probably earn Brown a call from the Department of Player Safety.

Sergachev went flying and was slow to get up, but was able to skate off and head to the locker room. The officials ejected Brown from the game, handing him a five-minute major for kneeing and putting the Lightning on the power play. It took only 13 seconds for Kucherov to make them pay, wiring a shot past Quick at 14:43 for a 4-1 Tampa Bay lead. Despite some other quality looks, that would be the only goal the Lightning could muster during the five-minute major. This was also the second straight game in which Kucherov scored following an 11-game goal drought.

Despite the hit that briefly took him out of the game, Sergachev returned to action for the third period looking no worse for wear.

However, Los Angeles would get one back as Kyle Clifford screened Vasilevskiy and tipped in a shot by Kopitar, cutting Tampa Bay’s lead to 4-2 at 3:17. That goal set the tone for the remainder of the game, as the Kings out-shot the Lightning 20-4 in the final 20 minutes. Los Angeles kept up the pressure and kept the ice tilted towards the Lightning zone. Tampa Bay seemed content to just play it safe and rely on Vasilevskiy to bail them out, and it nearly cost them.

After a couple of failed power play attempts, L.A. cut the Lightning’s lead to 4-3 with 6:55 left. A Victor Hedman turnover led to Kings defenseman Christian Folin scoring his third goal of the season and putting the Bolts back on their heels. Los Angeles didn’t play a flashy game, but they played a simple game, throwing pucks on net and looking for deflections and rebounds. Brayden Point and Kucherov tried to make something happen by forcing turnovers leading to shots on net, but Quick denied them both.

As the final minute approached, the Kings pulled Quick for an extra skater and proceeded to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Vasilevskiy

Adrian Kempe redirected a Jake Muzzin pass towards the net, but Vasilevskiy was in the right spot to deny him. Toffoli nearly tied the game up following a rebound, but the puck bounced into his skates. As the final seconds ticked down, the Lightning cleared the puck down and it appeared the game was over, but they were whistled for icing with 0.6 seconds remaining. To most people, that doesn’t seem like it would be enough time to get one last shot off. However, the Kings won the faceoff back to Doughty, whose final shot was knocked away by Vasilevskiy at the buzzer, preserving the win for Tampa Bay.

The Lightning return to action on Monday night when they begin a two-game road trip in Toronto for a crucial showdown with the Maple Leafs. Puck drops from the Air Canada Centre at 7 pm.

Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Made 44 saves, including his spectacular save on Kopitar that is the leading candidate for Save of the Year.

2nd Star: Steven Stamkos – Finished with one goal and one assist

3rd Star: Anze Kopitar – Originally had a goal in the third period eventually awarded to Kyle Clifford, who deflected the puck into the net. Was a driving force for Los Angeles throughout the game and is still probably wondering how Vasilevskiy made that save.

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