TAMPA, Fla. – With Brad Richards leading the charge on the power of two goals and one assist, the Tampa Bay Lightning skated to a 5-2 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night. Notching their fifth consecutive win at the St. Pete Times Forum, the Lightning tied a franchise record for most victories at home to start a season.
Returning home for the end of a set of back-to-back games, Tampa Bay met Philadelphia for the first of four match-ups this season. The Lightning entered the contest having won 11 of the previous 12 meetings between the teams.
With the Flyers playing the second game of an eight-game road trip, the Lightning opened the contest putting plenty of pressure on their opponent and goaltender Antero Niittymaki.
Early in the first period defenseman Paul Ranger fed Richards with a pass from the left faceoff circle. Positioned down low, Richards fired off a shot as he fell to the ice but Niittymaki blocked the attempt. As the rebound bounced out to the front of the net, Jan Hlavac fired off a one-timed shot but was unable to beat the Flyers netminder.
Despite the saves, Jason Ward connected less than seven minutes into the contest to give Tampa Bay the early lead. Ward connected off a slap shot by Filip Kuba from the blue line, tipping the puck past Niittymaki. With the puck changing directions and slipping through the five-hole, Ward posted his second goal of the season.
Tampa Bay continued their attack against Niittymaki when Vincent Lecavalier posted a strong chance shortly after the opening goal. While getting pulled down by Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell, Lecavalier spun around in the slot to fire off a quick shot. Although the puck beat Niittymaki on the play it rang low off the right post.
Within minutes Richards converted on the power play for his first goal of the night to build a 2-0 Lightning lead.
Early in the man advantage Martin St. Louis passed the puck out front from behind the net, to Mathieu Darche and Vaclav Prospal at the top of the crease. Darche got a piece of the puck and put a shot on Niittymaki who dropped down for the save. Although Prospal tried to jab the puck past the Niittymaki, the Philadelphia goaltender held on to stop play.
On the following play Richards connected by firing a shot through traffic. The shot sailed high into the top left corner of the net, beating Niittymaki to the glove side at 9:27 of the period.
Less than two minutes after Richards scored Jeff Carter posted his sixth goal of the season to cut the Lightning lead in half, 2-1. After Tampa Bay lost control of the puck behind the net, Carter jumped on it to wrap a shot around and into the net.
Despite the goal, Johan Holmqvist came up with a number of strong saves for the Lightning, including a pair of saves on Mike Knuble. After the Philadelphia winger fired a shot on Holmqvist in close, Knuble tried to bat at the rebound as he skated by the net. Holmqvist got a piece of the shot with an out-stretched left leg to keep Tampa Bay in the lead.
After skating into the middle frame with a 2-1 lead, Prospal converted a second Lightning power play to re-gain the two-goal edge.
As Riley Cote served a minor penalty for holding, Richards controlled the puck at the left faceoff dot. After holding on for the pass, Richards dished the puck through the Flyers defense to Prospal at the opposite side of the net. Prospal banged in the shot at the top of the crease, beating Niittymaki to the left side for his eighth goal of the season.
With the goal against his former team, Prospal extended his current scoring point-scoring streak to three games. The Lightning winger has recorded five points (three goals, two assists) in that time, tying Richards for the lead as the club’s top scorer with 11 total points.
“He’s been a key guy for us,” head coach John Tortorella said of Prospal. “He’s beginning to do it on the power play, he’s doing it a lot of different ways. Was have him in front of the net on the power play right now and he’s finding a way to score some goals.”
Midway through the contest Andre Roy and Cote went toe-to-toe, picking up matching fighting minors at 10:43. After the two players lined each other up, Roy landed a handful of lefts before the referees stepped in to separate the fight.
Holmqvist continued his strong performance by making a pair of glove saves late in the frame. After snagging a Mike Richards slap shot from the top of the right faceoff circle, Holmqvist blocked and gloved an attempt by Hartnell from the top of the slot.
With the Lightning carrying a 3-1 lead into the final frame, Knuble connected for his third goal of the season to bring the Flyers within one. After carrying the puck through the neutral zone, Knuble fired a wrist shot from the bottom of the right faceoff circle for the score.
Responding for Tampa Bay, Michel Ouellet posted his first goal of the season at 13:26 of the period to stifle the Flyers comeback attempt. From the goal line in the deep left corner, Ouellet threw the puck towards the front of the net. With Gratton causing a screen in front, the puck deflected off Niittymaki and into the right side of the goal.
Although Philadelphia pulled Niittymaki for an extra attacker late in the contest, Richards collected the puck by the left side boards and skated in towards the open net. The Lightning center popped the puck into the goal for his second score of the night.
With his three points in the contest, Richards extended his current scoring streak to five games. Richards has three goals and six assists in that span, totaling 11 points (five goals, six assists) on the season.
Dishing an assist on the final goal of the night, Paul Ranger picked up his team-leading seventh helper of the year. The Lightning blue liner has recorded points in three consecutive games (one goal, four assists) and has been on the scoresheet in seven of the team’s eight games.
Hlavac added three assists in the contest as Tampa Bay out-shot the Flyers 26-23.
“We were ready to play,” Tortorella said. “I think a key part of our game tonight was other guys scoring, other guys making big plays other than our top line. I know sooner or later the top line is going to get consistent and start scoring goals, but the other guys are chipping in here and finding ways to help us offensively. I thought both teams battled hard.”
Holmqvist posted his fifth victory of the season and improved to 3-1-0 in four career match-ups against Philadelphia.
Niittymaki remains winless against the Lightning, having posted losses in each of his four appearances. The Flyers dropped to 7-3-0 on the season, dropping consecutive games for the first time this season.
The only other time the Lightning have won their first five games at home was during the 2002-03 season. Tampa Bay rolled to their five consecutive victories out-scoring their opponents 23-9 before dropping a 3-2 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on November 11, 2002. Through five home games this season, the Lightning have posted a 21-8 edge in scoring.
Tampa Bay looks to build on the current home winning streak on Saturday, October 27 (7:30p.m., Sun Sports, 620 WDAE) against the Buffalo Sabres. The clubs will face off for the first of four meetings, the first of two at the St. Pete Times Forum.
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