In what was a game the Flyers had circled on the schedule for weeks, the team took on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight in a huge regular season match-up between the 1 and 2 seeds in the East. The Flyers have had well documented struggles against the Bolts this season going 0-3 heading into tonight’s match-up. In talking with some of the Flyers the other night, they really understood the importance of getting a win in tonight’s match-up. Brian Boucher was called on for the Flyers, and Dwayne Roloson was in goal for the Lightning. Roloson has been very good since coming to Tampa.
The game ended up being very exciting and one of the best regular season match-ups I’ve seen in a while. The Flyers pulled out the victory 4-3 in a shootout. While the Flyers won the game, the biggest winners tonight were the NHL. This match-up delivered as expected. There was a lot of hype coming into the bout since this was Kris Versteeg’s first game as a Flyer. Versteeg was a -1 in just over 17 minutes of ice time tonight on the Mike Richards line, as expected. Versteeg looked a little rusty early with a couple turnovers and missed passes, but was stronger later in the game. Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette agreed. “I’ve been in that situation before getting thrown in during the middle of a season,” Laviolette said. “I thought he got better as the game went on.”
The Flyers got off to a nice start with James van Riemsdyk scoring the first goal to put the Flyers up 1-0. Just before this, JVR dropped the gloves for his first ever NHL fight. He took on Randy Jones after a hit to Giroux. JVR, who achieved the Gordie Howe hat trick after assisting on a Scott Hartnell goal to make it 2-1, I felt was without a doubt the first star of the game tonight. A Tampa writer felt otherwise, which is no shock. While around a couple of their beats a couple months back, I witnessed as they pumped fists, made noises and pretty much cheered the Bolts on. I pointed it out to another local writer and we were both shocked. So I’m not scratching my head on this one. However, JVR was all over the ice tonight utilizing his speed and getting pucks to the net and creating rebounds. I was highly impressed with his effort tonight.
Darroll Powe was able to widen the Flyers lead on a penalty shot in the second period. His shot was a beauty as he roofed it blocker side over Roloson’s right shoulder. Following Powe’s goal, due to a crazy deflection and a questionable penalty call, the Lightning were able to tie the game 3-3 heading into the second intermission.
The third period was a beauty and the type of period that reminds us why we love hockey. It was back and forth action with the two teams trading chances. Both goaltenders came up big in the third. The game went to shootout where once again the teams traded chances. It seemed a little crummy that such a great game between the East’s two best teams had to come down to a shootout, but it did. No team wanted to lose this game, and you could tell. With the Lightning one save away from a win, Mike Richards roofed one over Dwayne Roloson to tie the shootout. Kimmo Timonen then scored in the 7th round and Brian Boucher stopped Martin St. Louis to seal the win. This was a huge two points for the Flyers who now have 5 points on the Lightning with a game in hand, and 5 points on 2nd place Pittsburgh in the Atlantic with two games in hand.
You could tell Peter Laviolette and the Flyers coaching staff really prepared heavily for this game tonight. The Flyers tried a number of unique strategies to cut through Tampa’s 1-3-1 defense. They held on to the puck in their own zone for a long time to force the defender to come back and it caused the crowd to boo in Tampa on numerous occasions. The last game the Flyers were trying to rush the puck on the ice to match the high tempo game but they were forced into too many turnovers. They were much improved on that front tonight and the execution was very good for most of the game. The Flyers and Lightning proved tonight that a possible playoff series between the two teams would undoubtedly be very exciting. The game got lots of good feedback on the social media networks and from press not even involved with the two teams. When both teams show up to play, close games like tonight can be expected. The Flyers finished the season series on a good note after dropping the first three. “This game was more about creating some space between first and second than it was getting on the board against them,” Laviolette told reporters after the game.
The team will now have a quick turnaround and play another road game tomorrow against the Florida Panthers at 7:30 for the 2nd game of the 4 game road trip. Look for rookie Sergei Bobrovsky to get the call in net for this one.
Other Game Notes/Observations:
* Kris Versteeg debuted tonight wearing the number 10. He is the first Flyer since John LeClair in 2004 to wear the number.
* The Flyers 7 round shootout tonight was the second longest in franchise history. Only the 13 round loss to the Rangers in 2006 was longer.
* Blair Betts was an outstanding 82% (9-for-11) on faceoffs tonight.
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