TAMPA – If they could just avoid the bad teams, the Flyers might just be all right after all.
Over the last four games, it sure seems that way. Last week, they followed a mind-numbingly listless loss to Buffalo with a spirited shootout loss in Columbus the very next night. On Friday, just 24 hours after losing a similar clunker to the Panthers in South Florida, they handed the NHL's best team only its third home regulation loss of the season, breaking Tampa Bay's eight-game home winning streak with a 5-3 victory.
They did so by exploiting the Lightning's Achilles heel — or heels. Tampa Bay, which beat Montreal, 3-1, on Thursday, is now 1-5 in the second game of back-to-backs, and its penalty kill ranked just 24th overall in the NHL entering the game. The Flyers converted on consecutive second-period power plays to flip a 1-0 disadvantage into a 2-1 lead and then got that unlikely insurance goal from Brandon Manning early in the third period to create a 4-2 cushion.
"You could tell right from the beginning there was more pep to our step," said Shayne Gostisbehere, who scored the second power-play goal. "Our battle level was a lot higher tonight, and it showed on the scoreboard. "
Tyler Johnson's shorthanded goal — after Ivan Provorov broke his stick taking a shot — pulled the Lightning to within 4-3 at 8 minutes, 58 seconds of the third period, but the Flyers — backed by another strong effort from goalie Brian Elliott — held off the Lightning's late surge, which included a power play after Dale Weise was called for a high stick.
For Elliott, it was his 13th consecutive start and his third back-to-back over that stretch. He is 8-4-1 over that stretch. "Feeling a little dehydrated," he said after Friday's win. "But good."
"As a team, we weren't real happy with our performance in Sunrise," Elliott said of Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Panthers. "The good thing about back-to-backs is that you get right back out there. You don't have time to think about it, and you've got to perform again. I think the guys really came to play tonight."
As is their habit, the Flyers fell behind early. Jake Voracek was sent off for a dubious trip in one of those familiar puck battles along the boards. The Lightning, with the NHL's top power play, needed 19 seconds to grab a lead, Steven Stamkos one-timing a quick cross-ice pass from Nikita Kucherov into the open side of the net for a 1-0 lead.
For Stamkos, it was his league-leading 23rd point and 11th power-play goal. He has at least one power-play point in 21 of the 37 games he has played.
Then, Valtteri Filppula was sent off for a lazy hook up near his own blue line. The Flyers killed that one but only after Yanni Gourde's slapshot through traffic knocked Elliott's mask from his head. As he had the night before, Elliott limited the early damage, later making a spectacular left-to-right save on Victor Hedman after a similar cross-ice feed to the one that produced Stamkos' goal.
After mustering little in two previous power-play opportunities, the Flyers tied the game at 6:55 of the second period via a nifty backhanded pass through the crease that Wayne Simmonds banged past Tampa goaltender Peter Budaj. The backup to Vezina candidate Andrei Vasillevskiy was playing in just his seventh game this season, and it's unlikely his eighth will come anytime soon. He was helped off the ice after Scott Laughton crashed into him halfway through the third period. Vasilevskiy finished the game.
The Flyers capitalized again after Kucherov was sent to the box for a slash of Provorov. This time, it was Simmonds with the pretty pass, collecting the rebound of Claude Giroux's shot and sliding it across the crease to Gostisbehere, who banged it in for a 2-1 lead at 10:03 of the second.
Brayden Point tied it again at 15:37 after the Lightning pounced on an uncharacteristic turnover by Provorov. But Sean Couturier's goal at 19:48, collecting a loose puck after a spectacular save by Budaj on Giroux, allowed the Flyers to enter the third period with a 3-2 lead.
It was Couturier's 18th goal. He also had a pair of assists — his third three-point game of the season.
It was only the eighth time all season the Lightning trailed after two periods. The Flyers are 12-0-3 when leading after two periods.
"It obviously starts with your goaltender," said Manning. "We've done a good job though learning how to win. It's about contributing."