Tampa Bay Lightning

Should latest loss to Lightning sway Flyers' trade deadline decisions?

Should latest loss to Lightning sway Flyers' trade deadline decisions?

The Tampa Bay Lightning are loaded, like Wall Street billionaire loaded, with the Allen Iverson attitude that they would like to add one more sports car to the driveway.

Maybe Wayne Simmonds is that muscle car that ensures the Lightning’s first Stanley Cup in 15 years. They’ve been eyeballing the Flyers' power forward for several weeks now, and whether they give Chuck Fletcher the package he’s looking for probably doesn’t matter.

This Tampa team may very well be the most complete team the NHL has witnessed during the salary cap era. The Lightning topped the 90-point mark before any other team in the league even reached 80 points. 

In fact, the 1979-80 Flyers team made it to 90 points just one game faster than the 2018-19 Lightning, and that was aided with a 35-game unbeaten streak. 

Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Lightning dismantled one of the hottest teams in the NHL with a red-hot rookie goaltender. Tampa Bay scored three goals in the first 10½ minutes to hand Carter Hart and the Flyers a 5-2 loss (see observations).

“We didn’t show up on time,” Sean Couturier said. “They were all over us in the first period. We got caught in our end. We didn’t win some battles. They made us turn the puck over a lot. You can’t do that against that team. They’re too skilled and they’ll make you pay.”

They made the Flyers pay dearly even without Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Victor Hedman, No. 1 goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and second-leading scorer Brayden Point.

And the NHL’s leading scorer Nikita Kucherov didn’t even register a point as the Flyers simply made it look too easy for the Lightning.

“Turnovers, a lot of turnovers,” interim head coach Scott Gordon said. “We didn’t give Carter a chance tonight.”

They didn’t give Calvin Pickard much of a chance on Nov. 17 or Michal Neuvirth on Dec. 27 as Tampa Bay scored at least five goals in each game, completing a three-game regular-season sweep of the Flyers.

Not long after Gordon pulled Hart, who faced the Lightning for the first time in his brief career, the head coach gave the 20-year-old rookie a little pep talk, mentioning that this game wasn’t necessarily a byproduct of his poor play.

“He just kind of said, ‘It’s not all on you,’ but three goals on nine shots, some of that is on me, too,” Hart said. “I've got to be better. It sucks right now but games like these happen.”

Despite the loss, the Flyers didn’t lose any ground in their pursuit of a wild-card berth, still six points off the pace as they face the Canadiens in Montreal on Thursday.

But, in all likelihood, what we saw Tuesday night would be the Flyers' reward of sneaking into the postseason.

Facing this Lightning team in the first round would be a monumental task, which should make Fletcher’s trade deadline decisions that much easier.

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Lightning 5, Flyers 2: NHL leader gives Carter Hart early boot

Lightning 5, Flyers 2: NHL leader gives Carter Hart early boot

BOX SCORE

There would be no three-or-four-goal comeback in this game.

The Tampa Bay Lightning jumped on Carter Hart, chasing the rookie netminder midway through the first period on their way to handing the Flyers a 5-2 loss Tuesday night.

The Bolts swept the regular-season series over the Flyers for the first time since 2013-14.

Here are my observations from the Wells Fargo Center:

• It was just a matter of time before Hart was due for a clunker. He had been too good for too long. After awhile, all of those Grade-A opportunities he had stopped recently would eventually catch up with him.

Although he told me after the morning skate that playing three games in four days was “no big deal,” it’s a much different beast at the NHL level against the Lightning, as opposed to the Western Hockey League.

• Ultimately, I think this could benefit Hart and the Flyers as he’ll be better rested for Thursday’s game against Montreal, which is much more vital to the Flyers' postseason chances. That’s a game the Flyers need to win in regulation and they’ll need Hart at his best. 

• I think the Andrew MacDonald-Shayne Gostisbehere pairing has run its course. Neither defenseman is reliable in their own end of the ice and both are easily knocked off pucks along the boards.

I can’t seem to figure out what "Ghost" was doing on the first goal. He seemed to give Hart a path to see the puck, but then proceeded to throw his stick out at the last moment in an effort to deflect it. I’ve said it on numerous times: either get your body in the way and block the shot or remove yourself from the shooting lane completely.

• If you watch a single highlight from this game (and most aren’t worth watching), you have to check out Tampa’s Louis Domingue make a leg save without a stick while lying on his side. When you can get this type of goaltending from your No. 2, you’re a pretty good team.

• Anything less than winning the Stanley Cup will be a disappointment for the Lightning. In three games against the Flyers, they scored eight first-period goals.

Playing on back-to-back nights without defenseman Victor Hedman, starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and their second-leading scorer Brayden Point (who missed a team meeting), Tampa completely zapped the Flyers in the opening 10 minutes, which speaks to its depth and the ability that any line can score at any moment.

• Did you notice former Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton was signed on a two-way deal by the Vancouver Canucks? He hasn’t played in the league since January 2017. If teams are that desperate for goaltending depth, doesn’t some team take a shot on Brian Elliott, who was very solid in relief? 

The only goal Elliott allowed, he had lost his stick and failed to seal the post. I’m sure the Flyers would like to pick up an extra draft pick even if it’s a mid-to-late round pick.

• The Flyers did manage to keep the NHL’s leading scorer Nikita Kucherov off the scoresheet. Kucherov had six points in the two previous games with the Flyers, but was held without a point, snapping his five-game point streak, having racked up 18 points in that stretch. 

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Flyers vs. Lightning: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Flyers vs. Lightning: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

The hottest team in hockey will finally host the team that hasn’t turned down the heat all season.

With an NHL best 12-1-1 record since Jan. 14, the Flyers (28-24-7, 63 points) will continue their frenzied push for a playoff spot as they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning (45-11-4, 94 points) for the final time this season.

The Flyers will look to avoid their first season sweep against the Lightning since the 2013-14 season.

Let's take a look at Tuesday night's essentials: 

• When: 7 p.m. ET with Flyers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. 
• Where: Wells Fargo Center
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

• The Flyers recalled goaltender Brian Elliott from his conditioning loan with the Phantoms and have activated him from injured reserve to the active roster (see story). Elliott will back up Carter Hart for tonight’s game against the Lightning.

Hart will be the fourth different Flyers goaltender the Lightning have faced in their last four meetings with Michal Neuvirth, Calvin Pickard and Petr Mrazek as the others. 

After a 2-4-1 start to his career, Hart is 11-2-0 with a 2.46 goals-against average and .930 save percentage over his last 13 appearances. 

• Tonight’s matchup is the 100th meeting between the Flyers and Lightning with the Flyers owning a 47-37-8-7 advantage.

In the first matchup at the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 17, the Lightning became the sixth team in league history to cough up a four-goal lead in the third period before winning, 6-5, in overtime. Ironically, the Flyers matched that same dubious feat when they lost a 5-1 lead to the Red Wings on Saturday before Travis Konecny pulled through with the game-winner in overtime.

In the Dec. 27 rematch at Amalie Arena, the Flyers battled back from a three-goal deficit in the third period, tying the game before Tampa Bay won it again in the OT period.  

• The speed of the Lightning has been blinding so far this season. Tampa Bay needed just 58 games to reach the 90-point plateau. Only eight teams in NHL history have topped 90 points prior to their 60th regular-season game.

It’s a good test. If we find a way to squeak into the playoffs, it’s a possible matchup for us. We’re excited about this game. The games we’ve played against them have been fun to play. I don’t see why tonight won’t be fun.

- Claude Giroux

Would you believe the 1979-80 Flyers hold the record? Pat Quinn’s team ripped off a 35-game unbeaten streak and started that season with a 39-4-13 mark for 91 points in its first 56 games.

• Tampa Bay is also the first team since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins to have three 70-point scorers before the 60-game mark of the season. 

Remarkably, the NHL’s leading scorer and Hart Trophy favorite Nikita Kucherov is on pace to finish with a whopping 135 points. Even if Kucherov finishes with 101 points, he will have increased his point total every season since entering the league in 2013-14.

Kucherov comes to Philadelphia on a five-game point streak with seven goals and 11 assists, an average of 3.6 points per game.

Projected lineup

Forwards
James van Riemsdyk-Claude Giroux-Travis Konecny
Oskar Lindblom-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Scott Laughton-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Phil Varone-Justin Bailey

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Travis Sanheim
Andrew MacDonald-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Carter Hart
Brian Elliott

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