TAMPA, Fla. - After releasing a routine snap shot from his stick, like he had hundreds of times before in his professional career, Oskars Bartulis - usually quiet, reserved and stoic in demeanor - lit up like a Christmas tree.
He threw a fist pump or two and was grinning from ear-to-ear as he was mobbed by teammates at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Bartulis didn't see his puck's path to the net - or Blair Betts' deflection in front of Lightning goalie Mike Smith - he just saw it hit the twine.
He thought he had netted his first NHL goal.
"At first, I thought I got it," said Bartulis, a native Latvian. "I was just shooting the puck on net. The best thing is that we win the game. It's not about the points."
Bartulis' shot - and Betts' tip-in - did just that: won the game. With just over 10 minutes remaining, it broke a 2-2 deadlock and propelled the Flyers to a 5-2 win as they enter the Christmas break.
The Flyers have been missing contributions from the supporting cast of players like Bartulis, Betts and Dan Carcillo with their top offensive guns like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter struggling over the past month.
It was just their third win in the month of December, and their fourth in their last 18 games.
Bartulis atoned for his earlier sins in the game, when he was on the ice for both of Tampa Bay's goals, with his hard and fast shot from the point. He also made the outlet pass that resulted in Richards' second goal of the game, 7 minutes later, that gave the Flyers a 4-2 lead.
But, as things have been over this rocky road that has dropped the Flyers from 12-5-1 to 16-8-2, it wasn't that easy.
They jumped out to a 2-0 lead within the first 10 minutes of the game - courtesy of Betts and Richards - but allowed Tampa Bay creep back into the game in the second period.
"Our work ethic dropped severely in the second period," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "You always need to work. We stopped skating. We didn't finish our hits. We started hooking, we started turning the puck over trying to play cute hockey."
The Lightning carried the momentum from their first power play of the game - early in the second period - to strike just a few minutes later with play evened up.
Former Flyer Steve Downie's wrist shot from the right circle snuck behind starter Michael Leighton and bounced off the far post, leaving an entirely empty net for Zenon Konopka. Even for Konopka, who hadn't scored an NHL goal since 2005, it's hard to miss from inside the crease.
"We had a great first period," Bartulis said. "Maybe we thought it was going to be the same way. Maybe we relaxed a little bit."
Rather than step up and squash the Lightning after just one goal, Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier worked repeated give-and-go and one-timer plays to perpetually pepper Leighton.
"You could feel it coming," Laviolette said. "I tried to call a timeout and reel it back in but we were down the road, trying to get the guys back on that page. We made it more difficult than it had to be."
It didn't take too much longer for the Lightning to solve him for the second time, with Victor Hedman's howitzer of a slapshot from just inside the blue line.
Hedman's blast, just 6:04 after Konopka had brought Tampa Bay within one, completely erased the Flyers' hard-earned 2-0 lead. In the first period, Betts followed up a Carcillo shot with a hard take to the net for the early lead. Simon Gagne followed that up with a through-the-skates pass to Richards on the power play for a slam-dunk goal.
As fast as it came, it was gone. The Flyers were outshot 14-4 in the middle frame.
The third period was a different story, authored by a different team than the one we have seen recently.
The Flyers stayed out of the penalty box and, behind 10 solid stops from Leighton, decided to start off their six-game swing away from the Wachovia Center with momentum.
"We talked about playing fun and playing to win," Laviolette said, "as opposed to just letting the 20 minutes go by. I thought the guy played a real gutsy third period."
"We played well defensively, didn't give up a whole lot, and capitalized on our chances," Chris Pronger said. "We haven't done that lately. We wanted to go into Christmas with a win under our belt and feeling a little bit better about ourselves."
Simon Gagne picked up two points: an assist on Mike Richards' first goal and the Flyers' empty net goal. It was just his second goal of his injury-riddled season . . . Claude Giroux scooped up two assists, his 15th and 16th of the season . . . Only one Flyer (James van Riemsdyk) played less than 10 minutes . . . Kimmo Timonen blocked a game-high five shots.
For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.