CLAUDE GIROUX roared through the neutral zone and dished off to Jake Voracek inside the Tampa Bay Lightning zone.
Time was running out - under 2 minutes to play - and the Flyers needed just one goal to remain undefeated in regulation in six straight games.
Craig Berube had five forwards and Mark Streit on the ice, with goalie Steve Mason pulled for the extra attacker. Two of those five forwards are in the top five in the NHL in points. Another is in the top 10 in goals.
Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Mark Messier could have been on the ice. Without execution, without crisp passing, there is no last-minute magic.
Last night, the Flyers had little of both - and not just late in the third period.
Voracek weaved toward the boards and tried to move the puck to Wayne Simmonds, but his errant pass got caught up in the referee's skates.
Seconds later, the puck was in the Flyers' empty net, with Valtteri Filppula sealing a 3-1 win for visiting Tampa Bay. When the Flyers needed the puck most, they seemed to be chasing it.
"We can't be happy with the effort and the way we played tonight," Streit said. "We've got way too many turnovers in the neutral zone. But it was all over the ice - we didn't get too many clean breakouts. It was a little sloppiness here and there and you're going to be in trouble."
Last night was the Flyers' first loss in regulation in nearly 2 weeks, since Dec. 3 in Anaheim. Even with an improved 3-0-2 run of late, the Flyers dropped to 15th place in the 16-team Eastern Conference following Columbus' shootout win in Detroit.
Berube had said a victory against the Lightning, second to only Pittsburgh in the East, would go a long way toward cementing the Flyers' growing confidence.
Instead, the Flyers fell to a Tampa Bay team that had lost four of its last five, was without starting goaltender Ben Bishop, and playing in its third city in 4 nights.
The Flyers barely made Andrei Vasilevskiy, 20, work for his first career NHL win. He was called up yesterday morning from Syracuse, 1 day after he was named AHL Player of the Week, because Bishop went down with an injury Monday in Pittsburgh. Vasilevskiy was credited with 23 saves, but few were from quality chances.
The Flyers' only goal came from a Simmonds deflection off a Streit slap shot on the power play in the first period.
"I think we were sloppy," Nick Schultz said. "We didn't have the urgency we needed in our game at certain times. I think we had an opportunity to win this game, with them playing on back-to-back nights and we've been sitting for a couple days. We needed a little more energy, a little more desperation in our game that we didn't have."
The Flyers have now lost six out of seven games to Tampa Bay since defenseman Matt Carle bolted to the Lightning in 2012 during free agency. They have been outscored by a 31-17 margin during that span.
What's been the biggest difference? Speed. The chasm between Tampa Bay, with an underrated defense, and the Flyers is a big one because of skating. The Flyers weren't crisp, no, but Berube believes part of that is because of the Lightning.
"That's part of Tampa, I think they do that to you with their speed," he said. "They get on you quick, there's not a lot of time. I think our execution wasn't great. They pressure you in both zones. It is tough. It's a battle. You've just got to grind it out. And we didn't create enough offense tonight."
The Flyers exited the first period with a 1-0 lead, but it didn't take long for Tampa Bay to get on the board. Steven Stamkos knotted the score just 110 seconds into the period and Tyler Johnson gave the Lightning the lead less than 5 minutes later.
"They broke our rhythm a little bit," Streit said.
There was little Mason could do on Stamkos' snipe from the top of the circle. Last week, Stamkos became the 10th-youngest player in league history to score 250 goals when he did it at 24 years and 305 days. It's fair to wonder how much sooner he would have done it if he hadn't missed 45 games last year with a broken leg.
"They thrive on opportunities," Schultz said. "If you're going to give Stamkos chances like that, they're going to bury you. They got a couple good chances and they scored."
Vinny Lecavalier was a healthy scratch for the seventh straight game, dating back to Nov. 29 . . . Wayne Simmonds is now tied for eighth in the NHL in goals (14). He has a goal in three straight games and six goals in his last six games . . . The Flyers scored a power-play goal for the eighth consecutive game, the longest active power-play goal streak in the NHL . . . Tampa Bay broadcaster Bobby "The Chief" Taylor announced he will be retiring at the end of the season. Taylor, who turns 70 next month, was Bernie Parent's backup with the Flyers on the 1973-74 Stanley Cup team.