With wins in four straight games and six of their past seven, the Tampa Bay Lightning continue their three-game California trip with a visit to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.
No longer a road swing simply for sunny weather and West Coast vibes, California boasts three playoff-worthy teams this season though none of them advanced to the postseason last year. The Ducks, though, have found the going rough of late, getting shut out in consecutive games and dropping four in a row.
The Lightning just have to bus between games after earning a 6-4 road victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. Defenseman Victor Hedman scored a pair of goals, including the go-ahead score midway through the third period as Tampa Bay broke free from a 3-all tie.
Most impressive of all for Hedman was that he was just one of four Lightning defensemen available against a Kings team that has pushed its way into second place in the Pacific Division.
Lightning defensemen Ondrej Palat, Erik Cernak, Zach Bogosian and Jan Rutta all were unavailable Tuesday, so Hedman stepped up with 32:37 of ice time while extending his points streak to four games. He scored a goal for the first time since Dec. 16.
"Obviously, a different situation, but you can look at it two ways," Hedman said. "You can feel sorry for yourself or you can look at it as an opportunity. That's how we approached it."
Forwards Nikita Kucherov, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Mathieu Joseph and Steven Stamkos all scored goals while sticking to their roles. Kucherov has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in six games since returning from a lower-body injury that kept him out for 32 games.
"Forwards wanted to play D, but we told them to stay up front and let us do the work back there," Hedman said.
The Ducks haven't been able to get players to exceed expectations in the wake of key absences.
Goalie John Gibson returned from a five-game COVID-19 absence in a 2-0 home defeat to the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, but defensemen Josh Manson and Cam Fowler remained in protocol.
Also out were team points leader Troy Terry (protocol) and Sonny Milano (upper body), who is third on the team in points. Adam Henrique (lower body) has been out since Dec. 3.
"Unfortunately, we just don't have the firepower," Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said.
The loss dropped the Ducks to 2-7-1 since Dec. 29. Once in first place in the Pacific, the Ducks are now in third place and sliding fast.
"We just have to find ways to get the guy in front, get those scrums and get the puck in the net," Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm said. "We're all capable of scoring goals. We just have to go that little extra, deep down, to get that puck in the net."
Friday's game will be the first meeting between the teams since the Lightning's 4-3 victory at Anaheim on Jan. 31, 2020. Tampa Bay has a three-game winning streak in the all-time series, with the Ducks last winning Nov. 27, 2018, by a 3-1 score on the road. Anaheim last defeated Tampa Bay at home in January 2017.
--Field Level Media