Now comes the hard part.
After a month of playing a good chunk of their 12-1-1 rejuvenation tour against non-contending teams like Anaheim, Detroit, Los Angeles and Edmonton, the Flyers get their toughest test on Tuesday night.
That’s when league-leading Tampa Bay hits town.
It’s not that the Flyers haven’t faced quality teams of late. They’ve beaten Winnipeg, Boston (twice) and Montreal.
But the Lightning? Now that is a different test altogether.
To their credit, the Flyers have played the Lightning tough this season, losing both contests in overtime by identical 6-5 scores (Nov. 17, Dec. 27).
Losses, however close, are still losses, however. The Flyers would like nothing better than to keep this run going and stay within hailing distance of a playoff spot.
Tampa’s statistics are simply awesome. The team is having a season for the ages.
Going into Monday night’s game at Columbus, Tampa held a record of 44-11-4, good for 92 points. The nearest opponents were both in the Western Conference – Calgary and San Jose, a whopping 15 points back.
Tampa’s team goal differential: Plus-73. The runnerup: Toronto, plus-42.
And here’s the scary part. The Lightning’s road record: 20-6-2.
Mindful that his team scored 10 goals in two games against Tampa and lost them both, Flyers coach Scott Gordon doesn’t want his team getting caught up in a game of firewagon hockey.
A close-checking affair, similar to a 3-1 win at Detroit on Sunday, would be just fine, thank you.
“I think Tampa Bay is probably the most dynamic offensive team in the league,’’ said Gordon after giving his team a well-deserved day off on Monday following back-to-back wins over the Red Wings.
“Whether it’s their speed, their power play (an NHL-leading 29.7 percent) – and when that’s not working, they’ve got a pretty good guy in net (Andrei Vasilevskiy: 25 wins, .928 save percentage) who manages to keep the puck out.’’
So expect to see a lot of the Flyers’ top defense pairing of Ivan Provorov-Travis Sanheim matched up against Tampa’s No. 1 unit of Nikita Kucherov (who has a commanding lead in the NHL scoring race with 94 points), Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos.
“So there are no holes in their lineup,’’ Gordon said. “We have to be good 200 feet and, saying that, best case scenario for us is we have to try to keep it a low-scoring game.’’
And the schedule doesn’t get any easier after the Lightning. On Thursday, the Flyers visit Montreal, then return home for the outdoor game against Pittsburgh on Saturday.
>Talbot still not available
Although goaltender Cam Talbot was acquired in a trade with Edmonton way back on Friday night (in exchange for Anthony Stolarz), he still won’t be available for the Lightning game.
The visa paper process (coming from Canada to U.S.) is dragging on as usual, so look for rookie Carter Hart to start his third game in a tight four-game window.
Hart faced 38 shots in both Saturday’s 6-5 and Sunday’s 3-1 victories. Also, he has faced 38 or more shots in seven of his 14 victories this season.
He is 10-1-1 during the Flyers’ 12-1-1 streak.
Jake Voracek’s nine-game point streak came to an end on Sunday. His career high is 10. . . In the Sunday game, Oskar Lindblom recorded the first two-goal game of his career. . .Rookie defenseman Philippe Myers played 9:53 in his NHL debut in the Sunday game.