For the second time in five days, the determined Flyers dominated the Lightning and kept their faint playoffs hopes intact. On Monday, the Flyers ended the Bolts franchise record nine-game win streak in Philly with a 4-2 victory, outshooting the Bolts 40-18 in the process.
Friday night, the Flyers repeated the feat at Amalie Arena. Philadelphia limited the Bolts to 19 shots, well below their season average of 29, and kept them off the scoreboard until less than three minutes remained in the game and the Bolts had pulled their goalie.
Philadelphia’s 3-1 win over the Lightning was its third win in a row and sixth victory in its last seven games to pull to within two points of Detroit for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Lightning, meanwhile, have fallen into third place in the Atlantic Division, tied with Florida at 83 points but the Panthers, with a game in hand, owning the tiebreaker.
A number of factors contributed to Tampa Bay’s third-consecutive loss.
We’ll look at the most troublesome in today’s 3 Things.
1. BRAWN OVER BEAUTY
Brian Boyle said it in the Lightning locker room after the game.
Ben Bishop and Tyler Johnson echoed it moments later.
Jon Cooper even spoke of it in his post-game press conference.
The Lightning played “too cute” around the goal, and that wasn’t going to fly against Philadelphia. In two losses this week to the Flyers, Tampa Bay tied a season low for shots with 18 on Monday and followed with just 19 on Friday.
“I think it’s just a matter of kind of playing a north-south game,” said Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who lost his second-straight start on Friday. “We were kind of too east-west there and we took it to the end before we finally got some shots with guys in front and you get a tip and kind of get a dirty goal…It’s not always going to be pretty, and for the first couple of periods there it seemed like we tried to be too cute at the blue lines and kind of in front of the net too. We were trying to almost pass the puck into the net and sometimes you’ve got to get dirty goals and you’ve got to get to the front of the net. Boiler did at the end but it was a little too little too late.”
On the Lightning’s lone goal, Boyle parked himself in front of the net and tried to get a tip on Anton Stralman’s shot from the point with the Bolts on a 6-on-5 advantage. When that didn’t work, Boyle corralled the rebound and guided the puck into the back of the net to cut the deficit to two.
Boyle’s goal was a perfect example of what the Lightning needed to do for the entire game, not just after falling behind by three goals and with their net empty.
“We probably had a lot of zone time in there, but we were never really a threat,” Cooper said. “If you want to be a threat, you have to attack the net and you have to go to those dirty areas. We just didn’t do it. That’s what’s hurting us right now.”
Whenever the Lightning did get off a shot from distance in search of a screen, tip or rebound at the net, the Flyers did a good job getting their bodies in the way and blocking the shot, preventing the puck from reaching goalie Steve Mason. The Flyers finished the night with 20 blocked shots.
“We had chances to create and can’t get them to the net whether it’s them blocking shots or whatever it is, we have to adjust,” Boyle said. “They’ve done a pretty good job of that two games against us. Our effort was better, our compete was a little better, but it’s about results. We want to get more towards the net. Getting our D involved, that was probably an issue as well.”
2. DIFFERING MENTALITIES
The teams’ desperation level Friday night varied greatly.
Tampa Bay was content to sit back and let the game come to it.
The Flyers attempted to seize control from the opening puck drop.
The result? Philadelphia scored an early goal, galvanizing its attack and forcing the Bolts to play catch up the rest of the way. When Philly put two more goals on the board in the second, the deficit was too much for the Lightning to overcome, and the Flyers choked the Bolts into submission.
“When the going got a little bit of tough there, usually we get going, and we didn’t tonight,” Cooper said. “For whatever reason, we’ve got to have a little more fight in the game. As that game went on, we didn’t have it.”
Cooper felt his team had gotten complacent perhaps following a nine-game win streak.
“We’re playing like we’re a comfortable team that’s in the playoffs, and if we’re going to play like that, we won’t make it,” Cooper said. “That’s it. That’s how we’re playing.”
Philadelphia certainly didn’t play like a comfortable team Friday night, and that made things decidedly uncomfortable for the Lightning.
“We didn’t let ourselves hang around in either of these Philly games,” Cooper said. “They’re a really desperate team, and they’re playing like it. Good for them.”
3. HIGHS AND LOWS
The Lightning have certainly piled up the wins in the second half of the season. Since Jan. 1, the Bolts are 21-8-1. They went on a seven-game win streak in January to get back into the thick of the playoff chase. Their most recent nine-game win streak lifted them to the top of the Atlantic Division.
But the losses have piled up at times too.
In between the seven- and nine-game win streaks, the Lightning lost four of five. And after the nine-consecutive wins, the Bolts have now dropped three in a row, getting just one out of a possible six points from their last three games.
“I think naturally there is probably a little bit of a letdown,” Cooper said about his team’s play following the win streak. “You’re kind of on a roll and there’s a major high. I think we’re not the only team this has happened to. I remember Chicago’s run they had, I think we ended that and then they ended up losing a few in a row after that. I know Florida went on a big run, and they lost a few after that. It’s a natural tendency if you’ve won so many in a row, you’re going to lose some. But it’s how you lose them. I think the two games against Philadelphia, give them credit, they played well, but I just don’t like the way we lost the games. Boston was a good game all the way around. Both teams competed and it probably deserved to go into overtime, they just happened to get the break in the end.”
Last season, the Lightning never lost more than two games in a row during the regular season. The Bolts didn’t lost three-consecutive games until, unfortunately, the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final. That team was particularly good at not letting losses pile up.
The 2015-16 Bolts have already had a four game losing skid in the first month of the season. To avoid matching that, they’ll need to put an end to the current losing slide Sunday afternoon in Columbus, the start of another lengthy four-game road trip.
“We won nine games in a row, and we’re in second place [now third place],” Bishop said. “There’s no room for that because you see when you win nine in a row, you don’t really go anywhere. It’s just important not to fall on the wrong side of things. Obviously, you got a point in the last game and we lose tonight, so it’s going to be important to win the next game.”