BY GREG BEACHAM
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tampa Bay’s spectacular start to the season hasn’t been slowed one bit out West.
On back-to-back nights at either end of California, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov led the speedy Lightning to blowout wins over two NHL contenders.
Stamkos, Kucherov and Alex Killorn each had a goal and an assist during Tampa Bay’s four-goal first period, and the NHL-leading Lightning beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 Thursday in an early meeting of division leaders.
One night after a 5-1 win in San Jose, the Lightning were just as good in LA. Kucherov started the Lightning’s avalanche of goals during 4-on-4 play midway through the opening period at Staples Center when he slipped out on a breakaway to accept a pass from Stamkos.
Before they were done, the Lightning had four goals in 2:02.
“I can’t remember the last time we came in here and played this well against these two teams back-to-back,” Killorn said. “There’s a ton of confidence in this room. We realize our top guys are doing really well, and they help to feed our whole team. Everything seems to be clicking right now.”
Victor Hedman also scored during a surge that buried Jonathan Quick and the Pacific Division-leading Kings, who lost at home in regulation for the first time this season.
“Usually in San Jose and here, we’ve had some really tough nights,” said Hedman, who also had an assist in his third multi-point performance in five games. “To come in here and play the way we’ve played the last two games, it’s really satisfying. It says a lot about the character of this team.”
Vladislav Namestnikov added a third-period goal and Peter Budaj made 22 saves against his former Los Angeles teammates. The Lightning improved the NHL’s best record to 13-2-2 with their third straight victory overall.
Stamkos kept the overall NHL scoring lead with 30 points, but Kucherov is right behind with 29. The Russian forward leads the NHL with 16 goals in 17 games.
“It reminds me of the team we had in the (Stanley Cup) Final year (in 2015),” said Kucherov, who has eight points in the last three games. “We have a lot of similarities, and we’re playing fast. We play with a lot of toughness and a lot of fun, and are fun to watch.”
Oscar Fantenberg scored his first career goal and Quick stopped 38 shots for the Kings (11-3-2), who had won nine of 12 before getting blitzed in the first period.
“We actually had a pretty good start, and then the wheels came off for a little bit there,” Kings captain Anze Kopitar said. “When you go down 4-0, it’s a steep hill to climb, but I thought we stuck to it and got back in it.”
Killorn scored 34 seconds after Kucherov’s opening goal with a tip in front, and Hedman connected 34 seconds after that. Stamkos capped the onslaught 54 seconds later with his eighth goal of the season on a setup from Killorn and Kucherov, who had his 11th multipoint game already this season.
Tyler Toffoli scored in the second period for Los Angeles, and Brooks Laich got his first point for the Kings with an assist on Fantenberg’s goal midway through the third.
Budaj was sharp against the franchise with which he revitalized his NHL career last season. Thrust into an everyday role by Quick’s early-season injury, Budaj won 27 games with a 2.12 goals-against average before getting traded to Tampa Bay in February for Ben Bishop when Quick returned.
NOTES: The Lightning improved to 6-1-1 on the road. … Kopitar got an assist on Toffoli’s goal for his 20th point of the season. He scored his 20th point last season on Jan. 9. … Tampa Bay forward Ryan Callahan missed his first game of the season with a lower-body injury. … Los Angeles scratched Adrian Kempe due to illness. The Swedish forward missed only his third game since his NHL debut last Feb. 16.
Lightning: At the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.
Kings: Host the San Jose Sharks on Sunday.
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