LOS ANGELES — The Kings decided to make their post-season push with two dependable veteran goalies sharing the crease.
Los Angeles acquired Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday for a package including goalie Peter Budaj.
The Kings will pair Bishop with Jonathan Quick in a formidable tandem down the stretch as they attempt to make the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. Los Angeles (30-27-4) began the day three points behind St. Louis for the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference.
Quick returned Saturday from a 59-game absence with a serious groin injury, and general manager Dean Lombardi said he doesn’t want to overwork his two-time Stanley Cup champion goalie during a difficult March schedule.
“This is not an insurance policy,” Lombardi said. “It is a way . . . to make sure that Jon is broken in properly, and make sure we’re in position to win every game down the stretch. Let’s face it, there’s not a lot of room for error ... and we want to make sure we have a No. 1 goalie in there every night.”
The Kings gave up Budaj, who filled in admirably as their starter during Quick’s absence, along with junior defenceman Erik Cernak. Tampa Bay also got a 2017 seventh-round pick and another conditional pick that could become a second-round selection, but only if extraordinary conditions are met.
Los Angeles received Bishop and Tampa Bay’s 2017 fifth-rounder. Bishop is an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Both teams are scrapping to get into playoff position over the next six weeks. The Lightning (27-25-8) are seven points back of a playoff spot, while the veteran-laden Kings are determined to avoid a third straight year without a playoff series victory since winning the 2014 championship.
Quick has been their starter when healthy since December 2008, but the Kings are wary of endangering the long-term health of a goalie under contract until 2023.
Los Angeles visits the Minnesota Wild — who made a bold move of their own, adding centres Martin Hanzal and Ryan White from the Arizona Coyotes for a first-round pick this year and second-rounder in 2018 — on Monday night to begin a stretch of 15 games in 31 days, including four back-to-back sets.
“When you’ve been out this long, (to) think that you’re going to ride this like in the past when we (would play) Jon 70 games, I think that’s totally impractical,” Lombardi said. “I don’t think it’s the best way to break in a guy. I think the days of playing Jon Quick 70 games, like we did two years ago, make no sense.”
The deal also was surprising after Budaj’s unlikely success with the Kings this season. The veteran Slovak netminder filled in splendidly after Quick got hurt in the first period of the season opener, going 27-20-3 with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage.
But Budaj, who spent the previous two seasons in the AHL, gave up 19 goals during a rough five-game stretch this month, including a 5-0 loss at Tampa Bay in which Bishop recorded the shutout. Budaj returned to a backup role Saturday while Quick backstopped the Kings to a 4-1 victory over Anaheim.
“Peter did a good job for us,” Lombardi said, “stopped what you’re supposed to stop. He put up some pretty good numbers, but if you’re looking at some of the things I saw in the last couple of weeks, probably the aim was to make sure we had a quote-unquote No. 1 in there every night.”
Lombardi said the Kings are trying to get Bishop to Minnesota in time for Monday’s game.
Bishop’s departure from Tampa Bay is just the latest upheaval in a tough season for the talented Lightning, who lost captain Steven Stamkos to knee surgery in mid-November. Stamkos is skating and doing hockey drills, but the team hasn’t said whether he’ll attempt to return this season.
After a slow start to his NHL career in St. Louis and Ottawa, the six-foot-seven Bishop has been an above-average starter for the past four seasons in Tampa Bay. He backstopped the Lightning to the 2015 Stanley Cup final, where they lost to Chicago.
But Andrei Vasilevskiy has been the Lightning’s goalie of the future for the past several seasons. The 22-year-old Russian is expected to be protected by Tampa Bay in the expansion draft.
Bishop is 16-12-3 with a 2.55 GAA and a .911 save percentage this season, while Vasilevskiy is 11-13-5 with a 2.81 GAA.
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