TAMPA – These late-night rallies are getting to be a regular thing when the Flyers play the Tampa Bay Lightning — but they still haven’t quite figured out how to finish the job.
In Thursday night’s game, just as was the case in a game against the Bolts at the Wells Fargo Center back on Nov. 17, the Flyers dug themselves into a big hole, then tried their best to get out of it.
In that first contest, the Flyers fell behind 5-1 before tying the game 5-5. Eventually they lost in overtime, 6-5.
In the rematch, the Flyers were behind 5-2 going into the third period, then tied the score on goals by Dale Weise (1:33), Robert Hagg (4:21) and Ivan Provorov (8:38).
Tampa won it just 18 seconds into overtime, 6-5, on a goal by Alex Killorn.
Anthony Cirelli stripped Claude Giroux of the puck at center ice to set up the winning goal by Killorn.
Still, the Flyers sounded pretty upbeat about the hard-earned point they secured.
“That’s obviously a huge thing when you believe that they’re never out of a game,’’ coach Scott Gordon said. “This is the best team in the league, they lead the league in scoring goals.
“For us to put up five goals against a team that only has four losses at home (16-4), we’re not going to be disappointed coming out of here with the point.’’
Several players expressed similar opinions. Showing some fight and not giving up in the third period can help a coach who is trying to build something.
“I think this (comeback) is huge,’’ Weise said. “It’s obviously a tough game off the (Christmas) break for a lot of guys. I think you have to give us full marks for coming back and getting a point against this team.
“If you had told us after the second we would get a point and we could head home happy, I think we would have taken it.’’
Added Provorov: “Going into the third, if we knew we were going to take a point, we would have taken it. This game proved that this team doesn’t quit. Plays until the end. That’s what happened in the third period.’’
For a while, it looked like a completely lost cause for the Flyers.
One would have thought when Giroux scored a highlight reel goal to tie the score at 2-2 in the second period, the Flyers would have received a big lift.
Uh, no. Just the opposite happened.
After that spectacular effort, the Lightning were the ones who came to life, scoring three goals in a span of 7:28 for that three-goal lead.
The Flyers, perhaps feeling the effects of having about half the team fly to Tampa on Thursday morning after the Christmas break, couldn’t seem to find their legs in the first two periods.
Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov paced the Tampa attack. Stamkos notched a pair of goals and Kucherov added a goal and three assists.
Gordon chose to go with Michal Neuvirth for a second straight game and for a while, Neuvirth was able to hold the fort.
The Flyers were still in it at 4:36 when Giroux rushed in, slid the puck between his skates to get past defenseman Ryan McDonagh and beat goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to even the contest.
But Tampa answered with the first of the Stamkos goals at 12:23 as the sniper had plenty of room from 20 feet.
Stamkos struck again at 14:54 with the Flyers shorthanded (Andrew MacDonald for delay of game). This time Stamkos used his patented off-wing shot from the left circle to beat Neuvirth short side.
Finally, Tyler Johnson completed the run by scoring in the final nine seconds while the Flyers were about to be whistled on a delayed penalty call.
The Flyers took an early lead in the first period when Michael Raffl tipped in a Travis Sanheim shot (which was deflected along the way by Scott Laughton at 10:50.
That lead didn’t last long.
Tampa struck back at 13:56 when the Flyers forwards were slow on the backcheck. That set up a three-on-two rush, with Tyler Johnson setting up a right-side feed for Nikita Kucherov at 13:56.
Then the NHL’s No. 1 power play (28.9 percent going into the game) went to work. With Sanheim in the box, Tampa pushed the attack to the goal mouth. Neuvirth was able to block one shot but became entangled with teammate Andrew MacDonald and couldn’t prevent Brayden Point from punching in the rebound with 48 seconds left in the period.
Giroux was pleased with the comeback but not happy with himself for the turnover which led to the Killorn game-winner.
“I thought tonight, guys in the third period diving everywhere, making desperate plays, playing the right way, then we go into overtime and I make a careless play, a soft play. That can’t happen.
“When you’re put in a situation like that, you have to be sharp and make better plays. We should have had two points and I’m responsible for losing one point.’’
Provorov played in his 200th NHL game and continued to extend his Flyers’ team record for most consecutive starts from the beginning of a career. . .Nolan Patrick left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury and did not return.