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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