The confines of home never seemed so friendly as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Philadelphia Flyers tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum by a score of 4-1.
Despite falling behind 1-0 early in the second period and coming off a long plane flight back from the west coast just the day before, the Lightning put together one of their best efforts of the season to rout the Flyers with three late second period goals, all scored within just over two minutes of playing time.
After a scoreless back-and-forth first period, during which Tampa Bay held the Flyers without a shot through the final nine minutes, the Flyers surged at the start of the second, eventually opening the scoring at 5:21 with Lightning forward Mark Recchi in the penalty box for interference. Philadelphia, with the second-best power play in the NHL, connected when Joffrey Lupul worked his way to the front of the Lightning net and found an opening between Tampa Bay netminder Mike Smith’s pads.
While the first half of the second period belonged to Philadelphia, when the Lightning finally got underway, they did so with authority. Martin St. Louis was the catalyst again tonight when, stationed at the faceoff circle to the left of the Flyer net, he blasted a cross-ice pass from Steven Stamkos that Philadelphia goaltender Martin Biron could only wave at. The goal was number 17 on the season for St. Louis and Mark Recchi also earned an assist on the score.
Tampa Bay went on the power play moments later when Randy Jones was sent off for tripping, and the Lightning needed only eight seconds with the man advantage to record their second goal, just 25 seconds after St. Louis’s score. Defenseman Andrej Meszaros, pinching down to the face-off circle, whipped a pass from Ryan Malone past Biron for his second goal of the season. Recchi received credit for his second assist of the night on the play.
The Lightning weren’t through yet as they continued the scoring barrage just 98 seconds later when Ryan Craig, working in front of the crease, batted a rebound of Matt Pettinger’s shot into the twine for his second goal of the season. Adam Hall also assisted on the goal, which closed out the second period with the score 3-1 in favor of Tampa Bay.
“My linemates, Hall and Pettinger, did a good job on my goal,” Craig said. “We had a lot to prove tonight.”
And prove it the Lightning did, effectively snuffing out any rally that the Flyers could muster in the final period. The defense clamped down on Philadelphia and restricted their scoring chances; and when they did generate an opportunity to score, Smith was equal to everything that the Flyers sent his way.
Vincent Lecavalier, slashed from behind as he broke in alone on Biron, provided the icing on the cake when he was awarded a penalty shot at 12:34 of the third period.
After a Lightning timeout, during which he was able to get his wind back after a long shift, Lecavalier slowly skated in on Biron, almost came to a complete halt in front of the crease, stickhandled side-to-side, and eventually found the opening and scored.
“I try to keep my options open in that situation,” Lecavalier explained. “When I went to the backhand, I saw him (Biron) spread out and reach for the puck. I was lucky to get it under him.”
The goal was his team-leading 18th of the season.
Mike Smith stopped 31 of 32 shots for the win and Lecavalier and St. Louis combined for 14 of the 44 shots that the Lightning sent on the Flyer net.
“That was one of the best efforts of the year,” interim coach Rick Tocchet said. “Everybody contributed and it was a good effort all the way around.”
An effort the Lightning hope to duplicate this Saturday night when their cross-state rivals, the Florida Panthers, come to call.
1 - 0 PHI
Martin St. Louis
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 TBL
3 - 1 TBL
4 - 1 TBL