The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Philadelphia Flyers have no time to ease back into the swing of things following the All-Star break.
The top two teams in the NHL’s Eastern Conference will clash tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.
Even though it is the first game out of the All-Star break, there is a lot on the line.
The Bolts have already beaten the Flyers twice this season and did so in the city of brotherly love. Both games were dramatically different in scores with the Lightning winning 3-2 on Oct. 14 and 8-7 in a shootout back on Nov. 18.
In the Nov. 18 game, both goalies from both teams played during the contest. Mike Smith and Dan Ellis combined to stop just 25 of 32 shots while both Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky each surrendered four goals apiece.
A panel of analysts on the Versus Network’s Hockey Central show prior to the All-Star SuperSkills competition on Saturday night voted the Nov. 18 contest the best game of the NHL season to date.
In that game, the NHL’s leading scorer, Steven Stamkos, had a hat trick while his linemate and the NHL’s fifth leading scorer, Martin St. Louis, had five assists.
The Flyers will have their hands full in trying to earn their first win of the season against the Bolts tonight. The Lightning entered the All-Star break as the NHL’s hottest team having won five games in a row. While Tampa is 7-3 in their last 10 games, the Flyers are 8-2.
The Flyers are 17-5-3 away from the land of cheese steaks this season, which is currently tops in the NHL on the road.
A win by the Lightning tonight would edge them to within two points of the Conference leading Flyers, who are tied with the Vancouver Canucks for most points in the NHL with 71.
The Lightning are playing just their third game of a record-tying 12-game homestand and know that the five-game winning streak before the break is meaningless if they drop this game to the Flyers. This is one of the most difficult stretches of the homestand, with the Flyers tonight and the Capitals coming in to play on Friday night.
Two weeks from now, the Flyers will return and the Red Wings come in two days later.
Steven Stamkos, fresh off of being the No. 1 overall pick for Team Lidstrom in the NHL’s All-Star fantasy draft on Friday, had his six-game point streak stopped in the win over the Toronto Maple Leafs just before the break. Stamkos is still very much on fire with points in 15 of his last 23 games.
In addition, red hot for the Bolts is former Philadelphia Flyer, Simon Gagne. Gagne, after starting with just three goals in his first 25 games, has three goals in his last two games and six goals in his last eight.
The acquisition of 41-year-old goaltender Dwayne Rolosn from the Islanders on New Year’s Day is looking real good for General Manager Steve Yzerman. Roloson is 4-1-0 with a 1.61 goals-against average and has two shutouts at home. He has three shutouts total in the month he has been in a Bolts sweater.
Tampa pulled even for the year in goal differential in the shutout win over Toronto, and while struggling defensively to start the season, the Bolts are getting much better. They have given up one goal or fewer in 11 of their last 21 games.
They have scored 152 goals and allowed 152 goals. If your looking for a difference between the Lightning this year and last year, look no further than one-goal games. Tampa Bay is 16-3-5 in games decided by just one goal.
The Flyers, while 0-2 against Tampa this season, have won three straight at the Times Forum, and team captain Mike Richards is the main reason why. Richards, while limited to just two assists in the losses this year in Philly, has five goals and five assists in the last three Flyer wins in Tampa.
The Flyers sent two players to Raleigh for the All-Star Game, Danny Briere and Claude Giroux. Briere suited up for Team Lidstrom and had two goals in its 11-10 victory against Team Staal. Giroux, selected by Team Staal, had a goal in the loss.
Giroux brings the hot stick to the Gulf Coast tonight as he has a point in seven-straight games. Giroux has three goals and seven assists over that stretch. The Flyers are expected to start rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky tonight. The Russian netminder leads all rookie goalies in wins (21), save percentage (.920) and games played (32).
Tonight’s contest should be an interesting one. In the 8-7 Nov. 18 contest, both goalies from both teams played in the game. Mike Smith and Dan Ellis combined to stop just 25 of 32 shots and both Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky each surrendered four goals apiece.
Tonight is a measuring stick game for Tampa. A win would be their third straight over a team many feel will represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals.
If Bolts Head Coach Guy Boucher can keep the Lightning playing good defense and Rolson continues to shine while Stamkos and St. Louis do their thing, then one would have to think the Lightning should be considered a part of that Stanley Cup consideration with the Flyers.