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Flying and challenged; Tampa Bay Lightning at Philadelphia Flyers preview

Philadelphia makes a push for the playoffs while the Bolts have a tough test this week.

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Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | When: 7 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: Fox Sports Sun | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Broad Sreet Hockey, Orange and Black Pack

Today starts the second-to-last back-to-back set of games to be played by the Tampa Bay Lightning this season. It's also evidence of the challenges that lay in the final 42 days of the 2015-16 regular season. The Lightning starts this tandem of games against a surging squad in the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center in Philly. After the game, the Bolts head home to play the Boston Bruins who are just 3 points back in the standings (and who are also playing back-to-back games in this stretch; they face the Florida Panthers tonight in Sunrise).

Don't get caught up in where the Flyers stood during the majority of the NHL season, mired in mediocrity and embracing also-ran status, that's not the club the Lightning play tonight (...and Friday night at Amalie Arena). Philadelphia is 6-3-1 in their past 10 games, they have 71 points on the season now, putting them all of 4 points out of the last wild card spot  (currently held by the Detroit Red Wings who are a point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins in the wild card standings). It's quite possible to make up the point differential during their final 18 games of the season, which includes a game directly against the Red Wings later this month, but it's one hell of a challenge as well.

I already mentioned that Tampa Bay plays the Flyers again later in the week... Yeah, about that... It's the Flyers next game after this one. A well-rested Philadelphia club will be at the Amalie to finish out the season series on Friday night. Good times, eh?

Enough of the hardship, it's time to raise a toast to Philadelphia. An immaculate transaction transpired which freed former Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier from his cell (the press box) in Philly and sent him to the west coast. Vinny got dealt from the Flyers to the LA Kings on January 6th, and the guy who had played all of 7 games this season in Philly was unbound. Mind you, after 25 games played with the Kings, Lecavalier only has 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) but that's half of what he achieved in 57 games with Philadelphia last season. It's almost a quarter of what he racked up in 69 games in his first season in Philly. It's largely irrelevant in tonight's game, but I liked crowing about the matter.

It's been 64 games since the Flyers and the Bolts first saw each other to start the season. In case you missed that little jig the two clubs danced to start the NHL season, we got your recap covered here. Let's say the Lightning eked out a win.

The Flyers have a pretty good progression in point-production through the roster, with Claude Giroux leading the team with 55 points (18 goals, 37 assists). Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn are Flyers leading goal scorers with 23 and 21 goals to their respective names. That contrasts the wide picture in TB; you already know it's a Nikita Kucherov / Steven Stamkos world here (and we're just living in it) as they lead the club in points before a steep drop-off.

Yet goals-for / goals-against stats paint a starkly different picture with the clubs. Tampa Bay currently sits at +28 in scoring differential (183-155) compared to Philly's 163-171, -8. The fact the Flyers have a progression of 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 points among the roster does not translate into the power-house that it looks like. The goalie tandem of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth aren't a bad pair either, thought it is sort of puzzling that Mason has gotten the majority of the starts (37) while Neuvirth's numbers are more impressive in his 27 starts (and 30 overall games played in): .925 save percentage over Mason's .216, a 2.29 goals-against average compared to Mason's 2.61, and an overall record of 16-8-4 as to Mason's 14-15-7. Mason has been penciled in to start for the Flyers tonight.

Because the Lightning are going back-to-back, Andrei Vasilevskiy gets the start for the Lightning tonight (likely at least) with the Bish-man getting go-time tomorrow against the divisional opponent in the Bruins. Vasy cometh with numbers comparable to Mason's, though the number of starts is less than half of the time Mason has spent in the crease: 16 game starts, a 2.64 GAA, a .914 save percentage, an 11-5-0 record and a single shutout (Mason has 4 for Philly). Vasy's numbers have improved with the season but the workload remains on Ben Bishop; 49 game appearance and 48 were game starts.

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