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Big, Tough Road Win in Philly for Lightning

One of the surprise teams this year in the NHL are the Philadelphia Flyers. Not a surprise for a lot of Tampa Bay Lightning fans is that the Flyers are coached by a familiar name. John Tortorella has his team a mere four points behind the New York Rangers for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. They are playing like a typical Tortorella coached team. Hard hitting, stern defense and timely scoring. The Flyers host tonight’s game against the Lightning. Philadelphia is struggling after dropping their last two home games. Prior to that, they had won five games in a row. From the other side of the rink, the last time we saw the Bolts, they played about as uninspired as we’ve seen them this season. The 2-1 loss to Detroit on Sunday saw them move from 3rd in the Atlantic Division to tied with Detroit for one of the two Wild Card playoff spots. 

One aspect of the Lightning play on Sunday that was inspired was their goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy. He was the only reason the Detroit game was close. He gets the start tonight against one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Samuel Ersson started in net for the home team. Despite skating this week, defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak will not suit up for the game.

Opening Bell

Coach Jon Cooper didn’t mince words after the Sunday loss in Detroit. He said his team laid back after getting the game’s opening goal early. They were basically missing in action for most of the first period and just about the whole second period. If they repeat that in tonight’s game, they will lose by more than one goal. 

Every team playing on the road wants to get the early lead. If it can be done, it’ll help take the crowd out of the game. Taking heed of their coach’s words, the Lightning began tonight’s game buzzing up and down the ice. Less than two minutes into the game, rookie defenseman Max Crozier jumped on a loose puck and shot it towards the Flyers net. Brayden Point deflected the Crozier shot in mid-air past Ersson for the first goal of the game. It also happened to be Crozier’s first NHL point. Great way to start the game but I’m sure Cooper and the rest of the coaching staff were already warning the boys about getting lazy and sloppy.

Working hard to avoid their lackluster play Sunday after scoring the opening goal, the Lightning kept the heat up against the Flyers. The game was turning into a defensive match which wasn’t much of a surprise for a Tortorella coached team. Both teams made it excruciatingly difficult to get a shot off let alone light the lamp. 

As the period wound down to the final two minutes, the Flyers had just killed off a penalty as Nikita Kucherov snapped the puck past Ersson to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead. That was the score during the first intermission.

Seconds Anyone?

At the start of the second period, the Flyers put the Lightning on the power play. Shortly, they would regret that. Kucherov, who missed a power play goal in the first period by about two seconds, didn’t miss now. The puck was ping ponging around the Flyers net when Point shoveled a pass to Kucherov who had half an empty net in front of him. Boom. Lightning up 3-0.

By now, the Lightning’s three unanswered goals had all but taken out the raucous Philadelphia fans. One thing for sure, the temperature around the collar of the Philly coach was getting hotter with his team’s play. I’m sure he began telling some skaters: If you are not going to play our way, you’re not going to play. Whatever he said, the Flyers started to play a little better. After an extended length of time in the Lightning zone, the Flyers got on the scoreboard. Cam Atkinson tipped in a pass from Joel Farrabee to make it 3-1 Lightning. 

That goal got the crowd buzzing a little bit. Then within five minutes, with Philadelphia controlling play, they scored again to cut the Lightning lead to 3-2. Newly acquired defenseman, Jamie Drysdale walked the blue line until he got a clean look at Vasilevskiy and the Lightning net. That shot had eyes and got past Vasilevskiy. 

Now it must be feeling like deja vu all over again for the Lightning. If they don’t stop the bleeding, they could lose this game. Luckily for the Lightning the Flyers put them on the power play. Even more fortunate, the power play unit scored their second goal of the period to make the score 4-2 Lightning. Mikey Eyssimont playing the bumper position, got a pass through traffic from Kucherov and wasted no time in putting the biscuit in Ersson’s basket.

Final Exam

A two goal cushion is just where the Lightning want to be as the final regulation period begins. The air went out of that balloon 42 seconds into the final period. The Flyers’ Cam York took a shot that was deflected high in the air. It seemed as if only York and Vasilevskiy had eyes on the puck. York got to the puck with a mid-air backhanded baseball swing that went into the Lightning net. Now, it’s nail biting time. 4-3 Lightning lead with the Flyers smelling blood. 

So, with 19 minutes and 18 seconds left in regulation, the Flyers are one good shot from tying the Lightning. In this last period, the game took on a playoff feel. All checks were finished and every loose puck was battled hard throughout the period. Both fan bases were on the edge of their seats. 

Tortorella pulled Erasson with 2:50 remaining in the game. The Flyers were throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Vasilevskiy and the Lightning defense. That Philly swarm only increased with the extra skater. With about a minute to go, Calvin deHaan lifted a puck from deep in the Lightning zone and Anthony Cirelli passed the puck to a streaking Brandon Hagel. The empty net goal by Hagel made it 5-3 Lightning. Even after that goal restoring the Lightning two goal lead, Tortorella kept his goalie on the bench trying to tie the game. It backfired horribly for the Flyers as Kucherov got his third goal of the game with the second empty netter goal giving us the final score of 6-3, Lightning over the Flyers.

Three Stars 

  1.  Nikita Kucherov – 3 goals, 1 assist and 4 points for the NHL’s leading scorer.
  2. Anthony Cirelli – 2 Assists and a 56% winning percentage on face offs.
  3. Brandon Hagel – 1 goal and 1 assist

What’s Next 

Thursday night at Amalie, the boys come home for a 7:00 game against the Arizona Coyotes.

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