FFR2 Gm 59: PHI 3, TB 5 - Not For the Faint of Hart
That would've been nice. But again, it's what happens next that matters most.
Just like last year, the Flyers went for the bold "3-goal 3rd period comeback" strategy. Unlike last year, they weren't quite able to pull out a point (or two), falling 5-3 to the NHL's hottest team, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
There's a bit of uneasy feeling in my stomach right now, and I'm sure you have it, too. No one expected the Flyers to win this game. For the second time this season, the Lightning were riding a 9-game winning streak heading into the matchup, looking to tie a franchise record. And both times, the Flyers played them fairly well, or at least as well as you can play arguably the best roster in the NHL.
Last time, they came up short in their most boring game of the season, falling 1-0 in excruciatingly "close, but not close enough" fashion. This game seemed like the Flyers would lose more handily. After a positive blip on the radar Thursday, the Flyers returned to their usual slow starting selves. A half unlucky, half just bad goal on Carter Hart less than four minutes in appeared to set the tempo. Tampa Bay came out guns blazing, holding a 73.08% Corsi at 5-on-5. They were expected to outscore the Flyers 1.4-0.6 (at all situations); they outscored them 2-0, as Cedric Paquette chipped in a one-timer late in the period.
When Carter Verhaege took advantage of a slow Flyers change and buried a goal on an odd-man rush, Philly's comeback hopes seemed pretty dismal. Scoring three unanswered goals against the any team, let alone the Bolts (have I mentioned they're pretty good yet?) is difficult to pull off. The Flyers were able to pull it out on Tuesday, but blew their chance to get anything out of it in the standings with a late collapse. Surely another comeback wasn't in the cards.
Ivan Provorov buried a power-play goal with a booming one-timer from the point, and from that point on, the Flyers started to skate with the Lightning. The Flyers have rarely been outclassed by their opposition this season, so this was no surprise. However, the Flyers had trouble staying out of the box, and though their PK was a perfect 5-for-5, that was just more time off the clock that the Flyers weren't using to come back.
At 13:26 of the 3rd, Brayden Point restored the 3-goal lead with a wrist shot over Hart's blocker. Game over, right? Well, the darndest thing happened after that - the puck started to go in the Bolts net. The Flyers played a pretty good game from the second period on, but it took until the final five minutes for their efforts to be rewarded. Goals scored on a power-play re-direct by JVR and a rebound shot from Giroux that barely squeaked over the line that were separated by just 44 seconds had the Flyers right in the thick of it.
But alas, when the tough get going, the going gets tough. Tampa Bay shut it down after the Giroux goal, keeping the Flyers to the perimeter or out of the offensive zone entirely. Nikita Kucherov, a game-time decision like so many of the Bolts stars, buried an empty-netter in the final 30 seconds to end the Flyers hopes for good.
This game is just another example of the Hakstolian Conundrum. Again, I don't know whether it's appropriate to applaud the Flyers for their strong performance in the last 35 minutes, the great special teams, and a valiant comeback effort. After all, they were garbage in the first period (again) and Carter Hart once again couldn't find his A-game away from the WFC. But is that enough to boo them? It's just another example of some shining highlights and glaring mistakes that average out out to a mediocre (maybe slightly better) performance. That just isn't gonna cut it against Tampa.
I'm not blaming them for losing to the Lightning. Almost everybody does. And overall, the Flyers played pretty solid! But this would be a lot easier pill to swallow if they hadn't lost to the Devils, or the Senators, or the Kings, or the Sharks, or the-oh forget it, you know what, that doesn't matter anymore. It's the same principle I stated so strongly after Tuesday's slightly more heartbreaking loss. It's all about the next one.
Or, in this case, the next two. When we look back on the Flyers season, for better or for worse, the next two games will be one of the biggest stretches we look at. The Flyers have a Tuesday-Thursday home-and-home with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who they are tied with in points, games played, and regulation wins. The Jackets are struggling, with losses in four straight (0-2-2). Star defenseman Seth Jones and sniper Cam Atkinson are both on the shelf long-term.
Two points. I want two points on Tuesday. I need two points Tuesday. I'll be there, hoping to maintain by perfect record this season (2-0-0) and avenge the OT loss I was present for against CBJ last season, the only time I've seen them play in person. We'll worry about Thursday on Thursday, but I don't think that request will waiver then. This is a critical juncture for both teams. One will surge. The other will sink.
Flyers, you know what you have to do.
If there's one flaw about the Lightning - man, those alternate jerseys are UGLY. Why do they insist on wearing them so often?
The Lightning have now won a franchise record eleven straight home games. You might remember the Blues almost set the same record for themselves earlier this year against the Flyers, but Philly was able to hold them off in overtime.
Ivan Provorov's goal was his seventh on the power play this season, two ahead of St. Louis' Alex Pietrangelo for the most in the NHL by a defenseman.
For whatever reason, Provorov loves playing in Amalie Arena. He's scored four goals in five games there, including his first NHL goal back in 2016.
Almost everything has been clicking for the Lightning during their winning streak. The almost? Their power-play. After failing to score on each of their five attempts Saturday, it's now just 1-32 during the streak.
Morgan Frost was sent down to the Phantoms the other day. It makes sense. Almost everyone in the forward core, particularly in the bottom-six, is playing great. Frost was solid in his two games back up, but there wasn't a spot for him this time. He'll be back soon, especially if he keeps scoring in the AHL; he had a goal in his first game back Saturday.
Mark Friedman was also briefly re-called as insurance in case Travis Sanheim wasn't able to play today. Sanheim did, and so Friedman was literally sent down during first intermission.
Speaking of defenseman and injuries, Shayne Gostisbehere said he would be willing to accept a rehab assignment with the Phantoms. Good news, as it shows maturity on Ghost, who the Flyers would love to have back on his A-game.
Lastly, another positive update on Nolan Patrick. Per The Inquirer's Sam Carchidi, "Nolan Patrick is making very good progress and there's a chance he will start practicing full-time with Flyers on Mon., per Chuck Fletcher. Still not ready for contact, but doing much better."
1st - Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB) - .909 SV% (30/33)
2nd - Steven Stamkos (TB) - 2 Assists (34, 35)
3rd - Brayden Point (TB) - Game-Winning Goal (21)
PHI - The Big One, Part 1 of 2: 2/18 vs. CBJ (30-18-11, L1)
TB - 2/17 @ COL (33-17-6, L1)
*Advanced Stats per Naturalstattrick.com
**Thumbnail from AP Photo/Jason Behnken