PHILADELPHIA – Although the Flyers might have been physically and mentally tired, they tried their best not to show it in their final contest before the NHL All-Star Game break.
Unfortunately, there was little margin for error against the NHL’s best team, Tampa Bay.
So it wasn’t really surprising to see the Flyers fall to the Lightning, 5-1, on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The loss stopped the Flyers’ winning streak at four.
The Flyers are 10-3 in their last 13 games, and, oddly enough, all three losses have come by identical 5-1 scores.
Making the task even tougher was news that starting goaltender Brian Elliott would have to miss the game with a lower-body injury.
So Michal Neuvirth got the start and Alex Lyon was called up from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms as the back-up netminder.
After a scoreless first period, in which the Flyers played well and outshot the visitors, 9-3, Neuvirth was tested early and often in the second.
Tampa Bay played a more aggressive game in the second period, using a two-man forecheck which immediately paid dividends.
Brayden Point needed just 25 seconds of the middle framet o get the first puck past Neuvirth and Yanni Gourde made it 2-0 at 9:56.
Then the Flyers gave up their eighth shorthanded goal of the year, this to Ryan Callahan, at 17:29 and the verdict was all but decided.
Travis Konecny ran his career-high point-scoring streak to five games with a power-play goal at 13:18 of the third, ruining a shutout bid by Tampa’s Andrei Vasileveskiy but Tampa responded quickly with a pair of goals.
Asked if his team might have some tired legs, Sean Couturier didn’t confirm that notion.
“I’m not sure,’’ Couturier said. “I don’t think the score of the game reflects how we played. I thought we had some good chances, the goalie made some big saves.’’
The Flyers outshoot Tampa, 37-22.
“They capitalized on their chances,’’ Couturier said. “Overall we did all right. Just a frustrating goalie (who leads the NHL in shutouts with seven and victories with 28).’’
Couturier chalked up Tampa’s three-goal run in the second to “little mistakes.’’
“I don’t we gave up a whole lot but the chances that they got were pretty good,’’ he said.
Neuvirth knew the Flyers would have a hard time keeping the Lightning down after such a controlled first period.
“We knew how they play on the road (where Tampa is 17-7-2),’’ Neuvirth said. “They don’t shoot a lot, they just play with the puck. Waiting for the big scoring chance. We had a tough time in front of our net.’’
Konecny sees the bright side of things, the way the Flyers have battled their way back into a playoff spot.
“We’ve done a lot of good things up to this point,’’ he said. “These last 10 games going into the break is a big positive. Just building off it. We had a slip-up tonight but those things happen.’’
The Flyers take some momentum into the final 33 games.
“We battled hard tonight, a couple mistakes cost us,’’ Ivan Provorov said. “We’ll come back after break with lots of energy. It (fatigue) isn’t an excuse. Everybody plays 82 games.’’
And captain Claude Giroux, headed to his fifth NHL All-Star Game, also sees positive signs.
“I think we’re playing some good hockey,’’ he said. “The score doesn’t really speak to how we played tonight. It’s frustrating to go into the break like this. At the same, we have to look at we’ve been doing for the last month or so. We have to build on it when we come back.’’
If the Flyers keep playing at the level they’ve been at for the past month, said coach Dave Hakstol, the results will take care of themselves.
“As sour as a taste as we have after tonight’s game, honestly we played a more complete game tonight than we did the last couple,’’ he said. “That being said, we came off a stretch where we played very well.
“The guys have pushed really hard. We’ve been able to make up some ground here. It’s been a dogfight coming back. The schedule doesn’t lighten. We just have to keep finding ways to get a little bit better.’’
With the NHL All-Star Game coming up this weekend, the Flyers are off from game action until next Wednesday at Washington. They are scheduled to practice at 2 p.m. on Monday at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J.