The Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers proved last evening that two teams could play a great and entertaining hockey game these days without 250 plus penalty minutes. Yes, I said the Flyers.
In a potential preview of the eastern Conference Finals, the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 at the Saint Pete Times Forum, in Tampa on Tuesday evening. The Bolts were in search of a season series sweep of the eastern conference leading Flyers. Tampa most recently shut out Philadelphia 4-0 back on Feb-1, and looked convincing in doing so.
The Flyers made their intentions known loud and clear to the rest of the NHL this week. It is “Stanley Cup or Bust” in the city of Brotherly love this season. The Flyers landed one of the best available forwards before the trade deadline, sending two draft picks to the Toronto Maple Leafs for winger Kris Versteeg. Versteeg had 14 goals this season for the Leafs and was a key member of the Blackhawks team that beat the Flyers in the Stanley Cup final last spring.
Tuesday’s game had a playoff atmosphere with it, as both teams came out playing intense and physical hockey. Each played cautious hockey as well, feeling each other for the first ten minutes or so. Neither team wanted to make the critical mistake leading to the all-important first goal of the game.
The Lightning and Flyers came into the game as hot hockey teams. The Bolts had won eight of their last 10 and even though the Kings had shut out the Flyers on Sunday at home, they were still hot in winning seven of their last ten games.
Tampa was playing in the eighth game of the record tying 12 game home stand and had their toughest stretch last week when they gave up five third-period goals against the Sabres, in losing 7-to-4 and then blew a 3-1 third-period lead Saturday against the Hurricanes, giving up two goals in the final minute before winning in overtime.
The Lightning (34-17-6) without forward Ryan Malone, defensemen Mike Lundin and Matt Smaby, all injured, held the Flyers in check for most of the first period. The Bolts would out shoot Philly 12-to-4 but not outscore them as the Flyers James Van Riemsdyk scored goal number 13 this season with 7:06 left in the first period.
After winning a face off at center ice, the Flyers worked the puck in behind the Bolts net as Jeff Carter outworked the Lightning defense in getting the puck to Claude Giroux. Giroux passed the puck in front of the middle slot area after four Lightning players began to collapse on the play. Standing and waiting for the pass was Van Riemsdyk, who whipped the shot past Roloson for the 1-0 lead.
The Lightning would head to the dressing room down one but tie the game very quickly to start a wild second period. A middle stanza that saw five goals, a penalty shot and even a mini-fight between the NHL’s leading scorer Steven Stamkos and the Flyers Mike Richards. In other words, excitement usually reserved for a playoff game.
The five goal second period began just 51 seconds in, as the Bolts Dominic Moore, who was voted the game’s number star, scored when his shot from just inside the left face-off circle riccheted off a Flyers defenseman and past goalie Brian Boucher. The Flyers and Bolts would then score two goals each in a span on three- minutes and 15-seconds beginning with the Flyers first power goal in the four game series this year.
Scott Hartnell deflected a James van Riemsdyk shot past Roloson to give the Flyers the 2-1 lead. After scoring the Flyers first goal and assisting on the second, Van Riemsdyk would get the gate for tripping, setting up a strange turn of events.
During the power play, Saturday’s hero and Bolts defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron had trouble settling down a bouncing puck. When he could not, the Flyers Darroll Powe did, and took off towards Dwayne Roloson in a breakaway. Chasing on the play was Steve Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Stamkos in an effort to make a play, dove to knock the puck away but questionably interfered with his breakaway. Powe was awarded a penalty shot and beat the percentages by scoring just the fourth penalty shot goal in the last 22 tries on NHL goalies.
The shorthanded goal was the Flyers ninth of the season and the tenth the Lightning have allowed. The Flyers now had a two-goal lead, but keeping with the excitement of the evening, a lead that did not last long.
The Lightning seemed to turn on a switch as Bergeron would control a puck at the blue line this time and fire it towards the Flyers net. Standing in front was Bolts team captain Vincent Lecavalier and his deflection of Bergeron’s shot sailed past Boucher, pulling Tampa to within a goal.
Lecavalier’s deflection was his fifth goal in his last four games and ninth point in his last eight games. Play immediately turned chippy following the goal as Mike Richards punched Steven Stamkos in the head and the two would tussle in the corner with just Richards dropping his gloves.
As a result, Stamkos would pick up two minutes for roughing and Richards received the double minor, putting Tampa right back on the power play. The Bolts would not need much time and less than a minute after Lecavalier cut the lead in half, another hot Bolt would tie the score. Teddy Purcell beat Brian Boucher short side and high from the left circle after receiving a pass from Mike Vernace. Vernace a recent call up from the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL recorded his first career NHL point with the assist.
Purcell’s goal was his fifth in his last seven games and point number 11 over that span. The regulation session would end in a tie with the teams just about even in every statistical category. Shots were 26-to-25 in favor of Tampa as Philly won 37 face-offs to Tampa’s 33. Philadelphia blocked 17 shots to the Bolts 14. That theme would continue into the extra session, as neither team could score the critical fourth goal in the five-minute over-time.
After five minutes of overtime play that saw Philly outshoot Tampa four shots to one, a shootout would determine the winner. One gets the feeling that had this been a playoff game it would be one of those two or three overtime affairs but it’s still regular season so onto the shootout we go.
Tampa deferred to Philadelphia and the glorified skills competition was underway with each team’s shooter missing in round one. After a Claude Giroux miss, the Bolts first goal scorer of the night would also be their last, as Dominic Moore beat Boucher blocker side, staking the Lightning to a 1-0 lead.
Mike Richards making up for his double minor earlier in the game, which gave Tampa the power play that allowed Lecavalier to cut the 3-1 deficit in half, scored, beating Roloson under the cross bar to tie the skill game at one.
Adam Hall with a chance to win it for the Lightning hit the post keeping the shoot out tied. “Hall hits the post. If it’s half an inch inside, it’s a goal and we win the game,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “But the reality is it wouldn’t change my view of what we did five-on-five, and that’s what counts for me. In the playoffs there won’t be any shootouts”.
“It was there, I saw it. It was open. (The puck) just nicked off his pad.” A game of inches,” Adam Hall said. Only one shooter missed the net as every other shot was stopped by either Boucher or Roloson.
Seven more shooters from both teams failed to score and then Philadelphia’s Kimmo Timonen raced in, almost stopped, and then beat Roloson to give the Flyers the lead 2-1. The shootout goal was the defenseman’s second shootout goal of his career.
With the games hopes riding on Martin St. Louis shoulders, Boucher would come up big, stopping St. Louis and giving the Flyers the 4-3 win. This was the same St. Louis that scored multiple times during the real skills competition shootout contest at the All-Star game.
The Flyers would win the game but many in the Lightning locker room felt a strong sense of victory as well. Commenting afterwards Bolts head coach said, “That’s a top team and we didn’t lose to those guys in regulation this season,” Boucher said. “They’re a powerhouse in our conference, they’re leading the league, and we had two injuries during the game of guys who kept playing. I’m extremely proud of our guys.”
Steven Stamkos who played a very committed game, diving for loose pucks and playing an all around good game said. “We fought back and tied the game,” Stamkos said. “I didn’t think we deserved to lose that game, but neither did they. I thought we played a really solid game.”
“It definitely brings us confidence,” he added. “I think we’ve established ourselves as a team who has been hungry all year and who isn’t going to quit, no matter what the circumstances are. We were proud to lose in this effort tonight.”
Tampa remains seven points ahead of second place Washington in the Southeast division but fell to five points behind the Flyers for the lead in the eastern conference with the loss.
The schedule does not get any easier for the Bolts who play the surging and getting healthier by the day, Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night. Detroit was already in town last night as this is the Player-Father trip for Detroit this season.