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Lightning miss out on top seed following round robin loss to Flyers

Alex Walworth | The Scrum Sports

Entering Saturday’s round robin contest, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers both sported 2-0 records in their first two round robin games. As a result, both teams met up at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto with the top seed in the Eastern Conference on the line. The Lightning defeated the Washington Capitals 3-2 in a shootout and the Boston Bruins 3-2 in their first two round robin contests, while the Flyers took Boston down 4-1 and defeated Washington 3-1.

While Philadelphia got through their first two games with relative ease, the Bolts engaged in a pair of physical contests in which they blew 2-0 leads both times before emerging victorious. On paper, this had all the makings of a fantastic match-up between two of the top teams in the East. However, the Flyers weathered an early storm before swarming the Lightning and coming away with a convincing victory and earning the #1 seed in the conference.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel tallied two goals in the first multi-goal game of his career, while Sean Couturier and Shayne Gostisbehere each recorded a pair of assists, Joel Farabee finished with a goal and a helper, and Carter Hart stopped 23 of 24 shots in a 4-1 Flyers win over Tampa Bay. Tyler Johnson potted the lone goal for the Bolts, who were out-shot 30-24 on the night as Andrei Vasilevskiy took the loss in net, stopping 26 out of 29 shots faced.

As a result, Tampa Bay finishes as the second seed in the Eastern Conference, where they’ll take on the winner of the last qualifying round series still taking place between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs. Philadelphia will play the 12th-seeded Montreal Canadiens, who stunned the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games in their best-of-5 series.

The bigger question for the Lightning will be the status of star defenseman Victor Hedman, who left the game in the first period with what appeared to be a leg injury and did not return. His status remains up in the air at this time.

A rough first period where everything that could go wrong did go wrong

Imagine a worst-case scenario for a hockey team. You’d expect some missed scoring chances, multiple goals allowed, numerous scoring chances allowed, and maybe an injury thrown in for good measure. Now picture that scenario playing out in a game where the top seed in the conference is on the line. That’s exactly what happened to the Lightning in the first 20 minutes of this contest.

Early on, Nikita Kucherov created a pair of Grade A chances. First off, he fired a shot off the post following a setup from Anthony Cirelli. Soon after, he found himself on a breakaway, but Hart denied the star Lightning winger. Despite the golden opportunities, the Flyers gained a 1-0 lead when Aube-Kubel deflected a Gostisbehere point shot at the 7:40 mark. That goal fueled Philadelphia, who carried play for the remainder of the period, where they out-shot Tampa Bay 20-6. About halfway through the first period, things got worse for the Bolts.

While pivoting to defend a rush, Hedman appeared to injure his ankle. After attempting to skate on it during a TV timeout, he left the ice and walked back to the dressing room in visible frustration. For a team missing Steven Stamkos right now, this could be a devastating blow. Hedman did not return for the rest of the game.

Philly tacks on another goal before the intermission

The Flyers spent the entire first period rolling out four lines and peppering Vasilevskiy with shot after shot. Aube-Kubel converted a feed from Claude Giroux on a 2-on-1, putting the Flyers up 2-1 with six minutes to go in the period.

The Lightning nearly cut the lead in half during a Philadelphia power play, but Hart came up with a huge save, denying Alex Killorn on a breakaway.

The Bolts get one back, but the Flyers restore the two-goal lead

Tampa Bay settled down in the second period and finally got on the board thanks to Johnson. With Aube-Kubel in the box for cross-checking Blake Coleman, Johnson buried a centering feed from Killorn at the 5:21 mark for a power play goal, cutting Philly’s lead to 2-1.

While the shots were 7-6 for the Bolts in the middle stanza, they didn’t create the high-danger opportunities they did in the first 20 minutes. With 5:38 left on the clock in the period, Philadelphia tacked on another goal to make it 3-1. Farabee completed a brilliant puck-moving sequence in the Lightning’s zone, ripping a one-timer past Vasilevskiy following a play in which Couturier poked the puck away from Cirelli.

That kind of puck movement has been a staple of the Flyers’ game since the round robin began a week ago, and it gave the Lightning issues for much of the first two periods.

Despite playing better hockey in the third, the Lightning lose out on the top seed

Facing a two-goal deficit, the Bolts carried play for the majority of the third period, out-shooting Philadelphia 11-4. However, despite spending a lot of time in the Flyers’ zone, Tampa Bay didn’t generate a lot of second-chance opportunities or many high-danger chances. When they did get through, Hart slammed the door shut, holding the Lightning at bay and preserving that two-goal advantage. Eventually, Tyler Pitlick clinched the #1 seed for the Flyers with an empty-net tally to make it 4-1 with 1:20 to go.

Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Nicolas Aube-Kubel – Two goals on a game-high six shots. First multi-goal game of his career.

2nd Star: Shayne Gostisbehere – Two assists and finished plus-2

3rd Star: Sean Couturier – Two assists

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