Valtteri Filppula

Flyers hope win over NHL's best isn't lightning in a bottle

Flyers hope win over NHL's best isn't lightning in a bottle

BOX SCORE

TAMPA, Fla. — The busiest man in December wasn’t the guy wearing a red suit and black boots with a low-hanging, long, grey beard. 

And his work certainly didn’t come to an end after Dec. 25.

Instead, the workhorse of the month was undoubtedly goaltender Brian Elliott, who was called upon to deliver the Flyers with their most impressive victory this season, a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning (see observations). The Lightning lost a regulation game on home ice for just the third time in 20 games.

Desperate for a win following the Flyers’ lackluster effort one night earlier against the Panthers, head coach Dave Hakstol felt he had nowhere else to turn and informed Elliott Friday morning that he was the go-to guy yet again.

Elliott completed the month of December starting every game in net, a stretch of 13 games with a record of 8-4-1 that included three pairs of back-to-backs. None seemingly tougher than the two games here in Florida.

“A little tired,” Elliott said when asked how he felt afterwards. “It’s a couple of hot buildings, so you lose a lot of liquids. It’s a big win for us. I’m feeling dehydrated, but feeling really good.”

As impressive as it was to see the Flyers’ power play finally show some life with a 2-for-6 performance, the most critical juncture of this game came in the final eight minutes of the second period when the Lightning made their strongest push. Tampa Bay appeared ready to take over after Brayden Point scored a goal with 4:23 remaining in the second period.

Then Elliott stopped a series of shots before Sean Couturier delivered a back-breaking goal with 11 seconds remaining in the period that gave the Flyers a much needed 3-2 lead heading into the third.  

“It’s tough for any team to get scored on late in the period,” said Couturier, who had his third three-point night of the season. “It was tough for us with four, five minutes left [in the second period] to get scored on, but we responded well and we came with a big goal. It gave use momentum and from there we took over.”

Elliott has been the one constant in a season of mind-boggling inconsistency. The same season when the Flyers can appear uninspired against an inferior Florida Panthers team, and then proceed to play with the necessary intensity and inspiration against the NHL’s best just 24 hours later.

Perhaps the only other aspect of this game that was more surprising than the outcome was the game-winning goal off the stick of defenseman Brandon Manning, who was playing for the first time since Dec. 4 and could only start shooting pucks a few days ago after recovering from a hand injury.

“Just kind of a lucky bounce that settled right on my stick with the goalie overcommitted on the other side,” said Manning, who now has as many goals as Travis Konecny and one more than Jordan Weal.

Manning also admitted that Elliott is the stabilizing presence that hasn’t existed in previous seasons.

“It’s something that maybe the last couple of years that’s kinda been hit and miss. Now when he’s in there, there’s a lot of confidence for our defensemen back there,” Manning said of Elliott.

“It’s a big win,” Elliott said. “It’s a measuring stick for us and we know we can compete against any team. We’ve just got to do it consistently on a nightly basis.”

“The [Lightning] have been on fire all season and it’s kinda good for us to see where we stand,” Valtteri Filppula said. “It’s good to know we’ve got a chance against anybody. If we play like this, we’re going to have a good chance to win against a lot of teams.”

Undoubtedly, the Flyers can enter the new year on the heels of one very impressive win. One can only wonder if it was a case of lightning in a bottle.

Flyers prove they're the best in the business for 1 night

Flyers prove they're the best in the business for 1 night

BOX SCORE

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Flyers turned in one of their most impressive performances of the season to defeat the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning 5-3 Friday night.

It was just the third regulation loss for the Lightning at Amalie Arena, as they came into this game with a 16-2-1 record.

Sean Couturier scored the go-ahead goal with 11 seconds remaining in the second period when he pounced on a loose puck right in front of Lightning goalie Peter Budaj that gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead.

Making his 13th consecutive start, Brian Elliott made some crucial saves late in the second period and finished the game with 24 saves on 27 shots.

Claude Giroux had his second three-assist night in his last five games, and extended his point streak to a season-high seven games.  

Both teams were playing on the second night of back-to-back games. The Flyers improved to 3-2-2 in the second game of back-to-back sets while the Lightning fell to 1-4-0.

• One of the more interesting subplots to this game was to see how Shayne Gostisbehere handled himself in the defensive end against the Bolts’ top line. Early on, Gostisbehere sealed off Lightning star Nikita Kucherov, got the puck back and proceeded to skate it out from behind his net. I liked the confidence and commitment to defense in Gostisbehere’s game at the outset.

• The Lightning buried the Flyers with their power play as Kucherov sent a cross-ice missile right through the box and onto the tape of Steven Stamkos, who may have one of the top three one-timers in the league. Not a thing Brian Elliott could do to stop that.

• The Flyers received a gratuitous power play when Cory Conacher seemingly hooked Gostisbehere. The Flyers’ first unit had a couple of early shots on Budaj and the second unit couldn’t even get set up.

• Another first-period stick infraction for the Flyers as Valtteri Filppula had his stick wrapped around Yanni Gourde. The Flyers’ PK performed much better at closing off those passing lanes while they successfully cleared the zone more often.

• There was a great read by Elliott to pick up Kucherov’s cross-ice pass to a cutting Victor Hedman. A play similar to the power-play goal, but Elliott had just a spilt second longer to react.

• Take away the Stamkos goal and I liked the Flyers’ opening 20 minutes. I give them the slight edge when the two teams skated at 5-on-5, even though the shot total was even.

• The Flyers can’t seem to cut down on the odd-man rushes. The Lightning had a golden opportunity early in the second period and the Flyers were fortunate that Conacher hit the outside post.

• The Flyers’ third line had an extended shift five minutes into the second period. Nolan Patrick looked much more comfortable playing alongside Wayne Simmonds than he did with Jake Voracek.

• The Lightning PK got a little overaggressive and the Flyers caught them in more of a diamond formation. With Dan Girardi as the only defender down in the low blocks, he unwisely went to his knees. That opened up a passing lane as Sean Couturier completed a nice no-look, backhand pass across the crease to Simmonds, who slammed it home. That snapped an 0-for-9 power-play skid.

• The Flyers continued to push play at even strength as Gostisbehere and Patrick nearly teamed up for a quality scoring chance, but the “Ghost” pass was just a touch behind Patrick.

• Kucherov took a retaliatory slashing penalty against Robert Hagg and that led to the Flyers’ scoring their second power-play goal. Gostisbehere was operating in the right circle as Simmonds took the shot, Giroux grabbed the rebound and fed a pass to “Ghost,” who found the wide-open net. 

• The Lightning’s big guns were able to strike late in the second period as Ivan Provorov turned the puck over in the neutral zone. That allowed Tampa to transition quickly and led to a 3-on-2 as no one picked up Brayden Point in the slot. Point nearly whiffed on his shot, but got just enough of it to throw off Elliott’s timing.

• Elliott bailed out the Flyers again as Alex Killorn got past Andrew MacDonald and skated in all alone. A sprawling Elliott denied Killorn with his right pad. Less than a minute later, Point sped his way around Radko Gudas and got a chance to bang home a shot. Once again, Elliott had everything sealed up.

• The Flyers grabbed a late lead in the second period as Tampa struggled to clear the zone. Gostisbehere jumped on the loose puck and fed it to Provorov, who fired a cross-ice pass to Giroux. Budaj robbed Giroux, but the puck squirted free and Couturier was there to clean it up. It was a big momentum goal for the Flyers.

• Elliott had another highlight-reel save when he snared Kucherov’s potential game-tying goal with a beautiful glove save. Fifteen seconds later, defenseman Brandon Manning, playing for the first time in 10 games, pinched down low. The initial shot was saved by Budaj, but Manning corralled the puck behind the net and wrapped it around for the goal.

• With the Flyers looking to add another power-play goal, they were doomed by an unfortunate circumstance when Provorov snapped his stick on a slap shot from the point. Provorov was left trying to defend Tyler Johnson without a stick. Johnson made a nice move to free up a shooting lane and proceeded to beat Elliott high to the blocker side.

• Scott Laughton lost an edge and undercut Budaj, who was clearly injured and had to be helped off the ice. The Flyers were fortunate they weren’t whistled for goaltender interference. It was a bad break for both teams as the Flyers had success against Budaj, who was replaced with No. 1 goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

• Valtteri Filppula scored an empty-net goal against his former team to put the game away.

Lineups, pairings and scratches 

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Jori Lehtera-Scott Laughton-Dale Weise

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Mark Alt, Taylor Leier and Travis Sanheim.

Flyers grind for ugly win over Sabres to push streak to 5

Flyers grind for ugly win over Sabres to push streak to 5

BOX SCORE

It was a Flyers’ win with a capital “U.” 

That’s “U” as in ugly.

However, it was still good enough to beat the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres, as the Flyers skated away with a 2-1 victory at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday night (see observations).

It’s the type of game the Flyers lost earlier in the season during their previous homestead when they came out sloppy against the lowly Arizona Coyotes in an eventual 4-3 loss in overtime.  

“I thought this was a boring game,” Jakub Voracek said. “Honestly, I don’t think we played good today, but we got the win, which is really important. You’re not going to play great every night. We played well when we needed to, but we can play a lot better, which is positive.”

Nothing was uglier than the game’s first goal when Brian Elliott attempted to play the puck behind his net. Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons intercepted Elliott’s pass and fed the puck to Ryan O’Reilly, who had a wide-open, unattended net in front of him.

“They came hard and a little miscommunication,” Elliott said. “Bad play on my part and we did a heck of a job of coming back and tying that up. That can go sideways in a hurry. We sorted it out, but our first period was kind of sloppy.”

After Elliott nearly made the same mistake again in the opening period, the Flyers rebounded to the tie game at 1-1 as Travis Sanheim scored his first NHL goal off a feed from Dale Weise (see highlights). However, even Sanheim admitted, the goal was a silver lining from a dark cloud that was looming over him defensively with failed clears and breakdowns in coverage.  

“I don’t think we were very happy with our first period, especially me,” Sanheim said. “Minus the goal, I thought that might have been my worst period of the season, but I think we bounced back and battled hard in the final 40 and came through with the win.”

“He’s been pressing for a little while, so I was so happy to see him get a smile on his face,” Weise said of Sanheim’s goal. “That’s going to do wonders for his game. You see a shift after he gets another chance there. I’m so happy for him.”

Sanheim’s season in some ways has mirrored that of the Flyers’ schedule — a yo-yo performance with bouts of inconsistency. Coming off a 10-game winless stretch, the Flyers have now won five straight. Throughout both streaks, head coach Dave Hakstol has stuck with Sanheim when some coaches may have wavered. 

“There’s always lessons along the way, especially for a young defenseman,” Hakstol said. “He’s had some bumps in the road that every defenseman is going to go through. Tonight’s maybe a little indicative of that. Travis is always honest with himself and the evaluation of his own play, and for me, that always helps keep his feet on the ground and move on to the next challenge.”

“I want to make hard plays and I’ve got to make sure the puck gets over our blue line,” Sanheim said. “It’s easier to sit back and say I could have done this, I could have done that. Going forward, I’ve just got to try and limit those mistakes and try and play a harder game.” 

The Flyers eventually produced the breakthrough goal late in the second period on a tic-tac-toe play started by Michael Raffl, who fed a pass to Voracek and then onto Valtteri Filppula for the one-time goal.

“Those are the best wins,” said Raffl, who played in his 300th career game. “You’re pretty happy when you win 4-1 and you play your best game. It’s easy to laugh, but that was a war out there and the last period, especially, but we came together as a group.”

Of the 14 one-goal games the Flyers have played this season, this was just the third time they earned a victory. Many of those games when they failed to earn a winning decision came after regulation.

“It’s all about confidence,” Voracek said. “Two or three weeks ago when we went into the third period, we would lose that game. Now it’s about making sure those loose pucks get out of the zone and don’t make any dumb decisions.”

“I think it’s huge. When we were in that streak, we blew a lot of leads late in games,” Weise said. “Minus the last two minutes where I think we sat back a little, I thought we did a good job of moving the puck forward, forechecking and not sitting back too much. It’s more of a mental thing to win those type of games.”