TAMPA, Fla. – Travis Konecny put on an optimistic face early Thursday afternoon.
The Flyers’ electric winger said Thursday night’s opponent, the best-in-the-NHL Tampa Bay Lightning, would be a great challenge, but he didn’t understand why they were being treated as such an imposing team.
“They’re a good team, but they’ve been beaten this year, too. Right?” Konecny said. “We’re not looking at them like they’re this unstoppable, super team. We know we have a good team and we’re building a consistent game here.”
He was right. The Flyers weren’t overmatched. Just like they did in last month’s meeting with Tampa Bay, they staged a furious third-period rally.
But they again fell short. Again, they lost by a 6-5 score to the Lightning. Again, they lost in overtime.
Alex Killorn ripped a shot past a screened Michal Neuvirth 18 seconds into OT to give the Lightning the win. Claude Giroux was stripped of the puck by Anthony Cirelli in the neutral zone, putting the winning goal in motion.
Trailing 5-2, the Flyers got goals from Dale Weise, Robert Hagg, and Ivan Provorov in the first 8 minutes, 38 seconds of the third period to tie the game at 5-5 at stunned Amalie Arena.
“I think if you would have told us after the second period that we would get a point, we would have taken it,” Ivan Provorov said of his team’s rally. “It shows we don’t quit.”
“This is the best team in the league,” interim coach Scott Gordon said of the Lightning, “.. .and to score five goals against a team that only has four losses at home, we’re not going to be disappointed coming out of here with a point.”
Giroux took the blame for the loss.
“Guys in the third period were diving everywhere, making desperate plays, playing the right way,” he said. “And then we go into overtime and I make a careless play. Soft play. That can’t happen when you’re put in a situation like that. You’ve got to be sharp and have to make better plays. We should have gotten two points and I’m responsible for losing one point.”
Giroux was being too hard on himself. He scored a sensational goal, and had a primary assist on Hagg’s tally and was one of the main reasons the Flyers even reached overtime.
With 7:27 left in regulation, Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy robbed Jake Voracek from point-blank range to keep the game tied. He also denied an all-alone Sean Couturier with a minute to go.
“Somehow, we found a lot of energy,” Hagg said of the Flyers' dominating third period.
Last month, the Flyers scored four third-period goals to erase a 5-1 deficit to the Lightning but lost in overtime, 6-5. Assistant coach Kris Knoblauch mentioned that to the team after Thursday’s second period.
Tampa Bay, the Stanley Cup favorite, extended its point streak to 13 games (12-0-1).
Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov each had four points for the Lightning, which was 2-for-3 on the power play while the Flyers were 0-for-2 with the man advantage.
Giroux has made too-many-to-count highlight-reel moves in his superb career. He added another one to his impressive list as he tied the game at 2-2 with 15:24 left in the second period.
Swooping in on Ryan McDonagh (minus-4), he went around the veteran defenseman with a slick backhand move, then switched to the forehand and put the puck past one of the NHL’s premier goaltenders, Vasilevskiy, and drew gasps from the Tampa crowd.
With 7:37 left in the second period, the Flyers were caught standing around. Stamkos made them pay and put the Bolts ahead, 3-2, scoring from the high slot when no one picked him up.
About 2 1/2 minutes later, after Andrew MacDonald inadvertently flipped the puck over the glass for a delay-of-game penalty, Stamkos made it 4-2 as he fired a left-circle one-timer past Neuvirth. It was Stamkos' 22nd goal and 14th in December -- the most he has scored in any month in his brilliant career.
The Lightning made it 5-2 with nine seconds left in the second as Kucherov’s shot deflected off an all-alone Tyler Johnson in front of the net. Officially, it wasn’t a power play, but in essence it was, because Tampa Bay had an extra man for about 40 seconds as a result of a delayed penalty.
The Flyers lost the services of Nolan Patrick (upper-body injury) with seven-plus minutes left in the second.
Tampa built a 2-1 lead in the first period, a session in which Wayne Simmonds was somehow denied a power-play goal by Vasilevskiy. Simmonds’ point-blank shot rolled off the back of Vasilevskiy’s right leg and stayed out of the net. Simmonds looked to the rafters in disbelief.