A matinee hockey game which will leave a Saturday evening open for a viewing of Black Panther? Sign me up! Tampa Bay took on the Philadelphia Flyers this afternoon (that sounds so weird) for the third—and final—time this season. The Lightning came out on top as they defeated the Flyers in a wonky game, 7-6.
You’ll have to excuse me as I sniff some smelling salts after the first 20 minutes of this game. The first half of the opening period was largely uneventful for both teams. The only events of note were the goals scored. It’s strange though—a period with four goals felt like a drag from both teams.
Philadelphia opened the scoring 7:08 into the period; Nolan Patrick tipped in a Claude Giroux pass that Andrei Vasilevskiy was unable to reach. Patrick was left alone in front—no one near him. Victor Hedman was late to put a body check on Patrick, but Hedman was behind the young center. Patrick simply absorbed the hit, kept his stick on the ice, and tipped Giroux’s pass into the net.
The Lightning penalty kill has been a mess since December, and it hasn’t found any level of consistency since. They will put together a strong game, but then promptly regress into a scrambling mess. The biggest problem the penalty kill—and the defense as a whole—has had is clearing the zone. Tampa Bay either panics with the puck and rims it around the boards—only to be stopped at the blue line by an opposing defender—or they hold on to the puck for too long and turn it over. It’s been a recurring headache that has plagued the team’s ability to cleanly exit the defensive zone.
Luckily, Tampa Bay received a power-play of their own shortly after Patrick’s goal and the return of Nikita Kucherov was felt immediately. Kucherov entered the zone along the right wing boards and created a soft spot just below the right face-off circle. Kucherov spun around and threw a pass to the point where Victor Hedman had just entered the zone. Hedman wasted no time in feeding Steven Stamkos—who was in his office waiting for a chance to hammer a shot. Stamkos one-timed it and beat Petr Mrazek high on the far side to tie the game at one, just 1:08 after the Flyers took the lead.
The rest of the opening frame was mired with neither team grabbing a foothold. Philadelphia was given another power play at 16:02 with Mikhail Sergachev being called for hooking. Tampa Bay killed the penalty, but Philadelphia was threatening on multiple occasions, and the Lightning continued to struggle with clearing the zone. It culminated with Braydon Coburn turning the puck over at the left faceoff circle and Andrej Sustr being unable to zone out Jakub Voracek in front of the net.
Voracek had little trouble getting the puck past Vasilevskiy that close.This goal gave Philadelphia some momentum and for the first time all period a team finally seemed to get into a groove. Philadelphia controlled the remaining four minutes of the period and they extended their lead after Robert Haag entered the zone (untouched and unpressured) and beat Vasilevskiy cleanly from the top of the faceoff circles. How Haag is allowed that much time and space bewilders me, but nonetheless, it happened.
Yanni Gourde attempted to spark some life into the team after getting into a scrum with Andrew MacDonald, but the remaining two minutes after Haag’s goal was uneventful.
At the beginning of the second period, Brayden Point took a slashing penalty within the first two minutes. Luckily, the penalty kill managed to negate this opportunity and didn’t allow the Flyers to get comfortable. Tampa Bay finally managed to gain some offensive zone time and pressure; previously they were doing a lot of one-and-dones. Victor Hedman managed to keep the puck in the zone and proceeded to skate down the right wing boards. Seeing Killorn trying to partially screen Mrazek, Hedman threw the puck on net. It bounced off Valterri Filppula’s stick and over Mrazek’s shoulder to cut Philadelphia’s lead to one.
This was a goal Tampa Bay desperately needed. Up until that point, the Lightning had looked slow and disinterested. After the Hedman goal, we finally got to see Tampa Bay get a little fire under their skates.
Philadelphia managed to kick back with a few strong shifts of their own after Tampa Bay scored, but the Lightning were noticeably more aggressive in the offensive zone—they still struggled to clear the defensive zone though. It finally culminated in a string of strong shifts for the Lighting that led to a goal. First, it was the Tyler Johnson, Adam Erne, and Cory Conacher line getting two great chances that missed the net. Followed by the Stamkos, Kucherov, and Killorn line continuing the pressure. Hedman fired a shot towards the net that rung around the boards and onto the stick of Dan Girardi. Girardi proceeded to fire a slap shot from the point that went through three Flyers and one Lightning player before getting past Mrazek. From the replay angles, it looked as though Mrazek didn’t get a clear idea where the shot was until it was too late. Either way, Tampa Bay had managed to tie it.
The tie would be short-lived—3:28 to be exact—as Jori Lehtera scored off a rather harmless shot from the top of the right faceoff circle. Prior to the goal, a delayed penalty was going to be called on Kucherov and the rest of the Lightning seemed a little distracted at that. Vasilevskiy still should’ve had that shot though. He was late reacting to it and looked confused once the goal was scored. He only had Hedman to look around to see Lehtera (and Hedman is big), but there was nothing else blocking his vision. Bad goals happen, and with Vasilevskiy they’ve been the exception rather than the rule. This was an exception.
The second period showcased a better effort from the Lightning, however, Tampa Bay’s defensive issues continued to create problems for them.
Continuing the woes was Ivan Provorov scoring within the first two minutes of the third. Philadelphia won a faceoff, the puck went to Provorov who then fired it on net. The shot bounced off Sergachev’s leg, then off Vasilevskiy’s shoulder, and into the net. Vasilevskiy didn’t have a chance on this. He was following the shot, which was going towards his left, and once the deflection came he couldn’t stop his momentum.
Tampa Bay wouldn’t quit though, Point and Gourde created a nice passing sequence as they entered the Flyers zone. Point directed the puck towards the net and Mrazek made—in my opinion—a very casual save. The rebound bounced right onto the stick of J.T. Miller who promptly lifted the puck over Mrazek’s outstretched arm to give the Lightning some life.
Then the floodgates opened. After 40+ minutes of relatively tame—and kind of boring—hockey, suddenly both Philadelphia and Tampa said “screw defense” and the open-ended skating that has become a hallmark for the Lightning was in full force.
Spoiler—Philadelphia shouldn’t try to do that. After a rush that Vasilevskiy denied the Lightning came in on a two-on-one. The players Tampa had for that two-on-one? Kucherov and Stamkos. Kucherov saucered a pass over to Stamkos who hammered it past Mrazek for his second of the night (and his fourth of the game, tying a personal record).
It wouldn’t stop there as just over two minutes later Stamkos setup Hedman for the sixth goal of the game for Tampa Bay. A switch must’ve flipped after Miller scored because Tampa Bay began dominating the Flyers in a way that we haven’t seen since the beginning part of the season. Philadelphia had some chances that were scary, but between the defense finally stepping up and Vasilevskiy stoning them Tampa Bay survived. Nonetheless, the Lightning cycled the puck around after entering the zone and Stamkos only had one real option at the left faceoff circle—pass. Hedman, for some reason, was left wide open at the point and Stamkos wasn’t about to miss that opportunity. Hedman received the pass and blasted one through Mrazek to give the Lightning their first lead of the game.
Tampa Bay trailed 3-1 and then tied it. Only to fall behind once again 5-3, but they never stopped battling in this game. Once Miller made it a one-goal game it was as if an entirely different team was on the ice. Tampa was skating circles around the Flyers defense and managed to completely turn the tide.
This culminated in one of the most dominant shifts the Stamkos line has had all season. They didn’t score, but they shelled Petr Mrazek with a barrage of shots and recovered nearly every loose puck for what seemed like an eternity (it was more like a minute and change they had pinned Philadelphia in their own zone). The Flyers defense was visibly exhausted and Tampa was clearly trying to feed Stamkos for a hat-trick (he hasn’t had one since 2013).
Unfortunately, with a team that has the offensive players that Philadelphia does that team is never completely out of a game. With just under three minutes to go in regulation, Claude Giroux (who is having a fantastic season) tipped a pass from Provorov that just got past Vasilevskiy to tie the game. This was another one of those “bounces”. Both Provorov and Gourde went at the puck and Provorov just managed to poke the puck before Gourde could. Giroux was left uncovered below the right faceoff circle and had little trouble lifting the puck past Vasilevskiy.
Nothing else happened in regulation, so of course, we go to overtime.
As always folks...
How is that a penalty on Kucherov? Like...how?
Oh god, this penalty kill is gonna give me a heart attack
VASILEVSKIY ISN’T A HUMAN BEING. THE SAVES HE HAS MADE IN THIS OVERTIME AND ON THIS PENALTY KILL ARE NOT OF THIS WORLD.
Come on boys, 32 seconds on the penalty left. Kill it. Please.
Oh thank god Couturier missed the net,
They killed it. Thank the heavens!
Back and forth......
Stamkos with 5 seconds left....
Shootout...ugh (throws chair) [Same - Acha]
The Lightning comeback twice to defeat the Flyers 7-6. This game went from being dull to explosive and then heart racing. It took the Lightning 40+ minutes to fully wake up, but once they did it became a race to see who could score more. Tampa overcame their problems this game, but it’s just another reminder of what this team needs to do once the playoffs come (and the return of healthy players).
Offense, offense, offense
It took Tampa Bay a bit to get rolling, but once they got their offensive juices flowing there was no stopping them. Stamkos set a new personal record with a five-point game, Hedman tied his personal record with four points and the return of Nikita Kucherov (three-point game) all paved the way for Tampa Bay’s offensive explosion.
Philadelphia didn’t slouch on the offensive side either with five Flyers having multi-point nights—led by Ivan Provorov’s three. This was a game coaches hate, but fans love. The atmosphere in Amalie was mute and timid through the first 30ish minutes. Once Girardi tied the game at three the arena started to get back into it.
They then became timid after Philadelphia pushed their lead to 5-3, but once Miller made it 5-4 early in the third period the arena started to rile itself up once again. When Stamkos scored to tie it? An eruption of noise encapsulated Amalie arena. When Hedman gave Tampa Bay the lead? I thought the roof was going to cave in from the sheer force of the cheers—it was that intense.
This offense is terrifying to watch when it is clicking. Absolutely terrifying.
This is a point I’ve beaten into the ground, and I’m going to continue to do until it is fixed. The defense is still failing to clear the defensive zone cleanly, the defense is still scrambling too often, the defense is still losing puck battles at inopportune times.
The defense hasn’t been good enough since December. They’ve shown flashes of being the solid unit that was on display during the opening two months of the season, but it’s been an ugly mixed bag since the holidays.
Hopefully, once Ryan McDonagh joins the team next week we will see some form of improvement, but with 16 games left to play, I’m beginning to worry that the defense’s inability to be consistent is going to sink this team in the postseason. I’m holding judgment until I see 10+ games with McDonagh in the fold though—I’m just not overly optimistic with how the past 2 1⁄2 months have gone.
This marks the second time I’ve ever written about officiating after a game (tweets don’t count). Philadelphia was penalized twice—all game. Just twice. Tampa Bay? Six times. More than a few were questionable, and it was aggravating to see Tampa have the ice tilted against them so often. Luckily, the penalty kill stepped up to the plate and killed five of them—especially the clutch one in overtime (don’t get me started on that call, I’m still trying to figure it out).
The officiating has not been kind to Tampa Bay over the last few games (hello Dallas tying it late after pushing Domingue into the net), and it sometimes feels like Tampa has to battle the opposing team and the referees (I’m being hyperbolic...work with me) just t
o stay in the game. It’s frustrating, but nothing we aren’t used to.