After a Tuesday night performance in Toronto that Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper called “embarrassing,” the Lightning are looking forward to sunnier times back home on Florida’s west coast.
The Lightning (43-21-6, 92 points) will host the Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7, 89 points) on Thursday night in the third and final meeting between the two second-place teams in the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions, respectively.
Tampa Bay sits comfortably in second in the Atlantic — trailing first-place Boston by eight points and leading third-place Toronto by 11 entering Wednesday — and are likely locked into the position they will hold when the Eastern Conference playoffs open next month.
But Tuesday’s 2-1 loss in regulation to the Maple Leafs did very little to instill any confidence into Cooper’s bunch.
To top it off, the Lightning — who played without captain Steven Stamkos (out seven games) and Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Victor Hedman (two games) — would face Toronto when the quarterfinals open if the division’s standings hold true and the Maple Leafs can hold off the Florida Panthers.
“During the course of a year, 82 games, three periods a game, that’s a lot of periods of hockey,” Cooper said after the loss in Toronto, “and for the most part we have a lot of good ones, a small amount we could have been better and couple that are embarrassing.
“And that (first period) would fall under the embarrassing category.”
Ondrej Palat scored and goalie Andre Vasilevskiy stopped 34 shots for the Lightning, but the visitors allowed an early third-period goal by Auston Matthews to break a 1-1 tie and send Tampa Bay to another defeat and round out its last 10 games with a 3-6-1 mark.
Toronto outshot Tampa Bay 17-5 in a lopsided first period, and the return of Hedman, who participated in Tuesday’s morning skate, would go a long way toward bolstering the Lightning’s overall output.
In addition to being a lockdown defender over his 66 games played, the big Swedish blueliner has 55 points (11 goals, 44 assists) as the anchor of the club’s stellar blue line.
Philadelphia had its season-best winning streak of nine games broken Tuesday night in a stout performance by Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. The Finnish backstop denied all 36 Flyers shots as he recorded his 50th career shutout on his 33rd birthday.
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault had little to criticize after the game and credited the standout play of Rask. He also has to be pleased by his team’s performance over the course of the season.
“For two periods I felt we were the better team on the ice. We had some good opportunities to take a lead, couldn’t get anything past (Rask),” Vigneault said.
Winners of 12 of their last 15 (12-3-0), the Flyers have lost both of their matches against Tampa Bay — 1-0 in Philadelphia on Jan. 11 and 5-3 in Tampa on Feb. 15 — with Vasilevskiy recording both victories.
Philadelphia entered Wednesday just one point behind first-place Washington and three ahead of rival Pittsburgh in the chase for the top spot in the Metropolitan.
–Field Level Media