TAMPA, Fla. – Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said Saturday’s game was a chance for his team to show how it measured against the surging Tampa Bay Lightning.
Well, the Flyers huffed and puffed and outplayed Tampa over most of the last two periods.
But the damage had already been done.
The Bolts got outstanding goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy and were opportunistic, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and outlasting the Flyers, 5-3, at Amalie Arena.
Tampa held off a furious late charge that saw the Flyers trim a 4-1 deficit to 4-3, and it escaped with its 10th straight win, matching a franchise record. It also gave Tampa a franchise-record 11 consecutive home victories.
“After it went to 3-0, after that it was all us,” defenseman Ivan Provorov said. “We had control of the game, we had the puck, we were creating. If it wasn’t for their goalie, we would have won the game.”
Vasilevskiy made 30 saves and raised his point streak to 21 games (19-0-2). The NHL record is 27 straight by the Flyers’ Pete Peeters in 1979-80.
“He’s been feeling it, for sure, as has their whole team,” Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk said. “They’re finding ways to win.”
The 25-year-old goalie turned aside Travis Konecny from in front with 1 minute, 50 seconds left to keep the Lightning ahead, 4-3. Nikita Kucherov iced the win with an empty-net goal with 21.6 seconds remaining.
The Flyers outshot the Lightning, 33-24, including a 25-13 margin over the last two periods.
“They’re a team pushing for the playoffs, so they’re pushing," Tampa coach Jon Cooper said of the Flyers. "I really respect that team. They’re good. They pushed, and we didn’t push back, to be honest with you.”
Trailing 3-1, the Flyers dominated the third period, but Vasilevskiy stopped Sean Couturier twice in front, denied Kevin Hayes from the slot, and robbed the suddenly offensive Robert Hagg from the doorstep, as the Lightning maintained a two-goal cushion. He also made a terrific stop on Jake Voracek after he redirected a slick goal-mouth pass from ever-present Couturier midway through the third.
Konecny, who was involved in several after-the-whistle scrums in the feisty game, and Joel Farabee had a two-on-none rush with about nine minutes to go but didn’t get off a shot.
With 7:26 left, Brayden Point scored from the right circle with a well-placed shot into the left corner, giving Tampa a 4-1 lead.
“If I stop that puck at the end, I think we win this hockey game," Carter Hart said.
The Flyers didn’t quit. Van Riemsdyk (six goals in the last 11 games) scored a power-play goal with 4:29 to go. The Flyers pulled their goalie with 4:21 remaining, and Claude Giroux scored on a rebound with 3:45 left to cut the deficit to 4-3.
In the second period, the Flyers cut into Tampa’s 3-0 lead on Ivan Provorov’s power-play goal, a tracer from the point after he took a feed from Giroux. The pass gave Giroux 234 power-play assists, tying Bobby Clarke’s franchise record.
First-period goals by Alex Killorn and Cedric Paquette had the Flyers chasing the game – not a good formula against a team that allowed two goals or fewer in eight of its previous nine games.
Killorn scored after his pass deflected off Provorov’s skate, and he collected the rebound and put it off Hart, who did not have the short side covered, and into the net 3:17 into the game.
“Just an unlucky bounce,” Provorov said.
A Provorov turnover led to Paquette’s sixth goal of the season. Tyler Johnson, operating behind the goal line, found a wide-open Paquette in the slot, and he put a one-timer past Hart with 5:05 to go in the period.
Carter Verhaeghe converted Victor Hedman’s saucer pass and finished a three-on-two rush that gave the Bolts a 3-0 lead2:35 into the second period.
The Flyers, however, regrouped.
“There’s no quit in this team. We battled hard,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said. “Unfortunately, this is a tough team to give a three-goal lead to. Obviously, on the first one, Carter would like to have that one back, and we had a terrible [line] change on their third goal. ... The difference in the third period was their goaltender. We had enough looks and the right type of looks to tie this game up. Give their goaltender credit.”