PHILADELPHIA – If this was supposed to be a measuring stick game for the Flyers, they came up a bit short.
Coming off a 12-1-1 dash since Jan. 12, the Flyers skated squarely into a wall named the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night and it was a reality check.
The team with the best record (46-11-4) in the NHL easily skated past the Flyers on the way to a 5-2 win at the Wells Fargo Center, sweeping the season series.
With Pittsburgh winning at New Jersey, the Flyers fell back to eight points out of a playoff spot again.
It took Tampa, winners now of seven straight games, all of 10:23 in the first period to send rookie goalie sensation Carter Hart to an early seat on the bench.
Goals from Mikhail Sergachev (2:22), Alex Killorn (5:13) and J.T. Miller (10:23) on just nine shots finished Hart’s evening in favor of Brian Elliott.
Coach Scott Gordon indicated the change of goalies was more a reflection of his team’s performance than Hart’s.
“A lot of turnovers,’’ Gordon said after the game. “We didn’t give Carter a chance tonight, to be able to help us win the game.
“Him getting pulled had nothing to do with him as much as it was I wanted him to be ready for Thursday (at Montreal). At that point it’s 3-0, we didn’t know which way it was going to go. It was also an opportunity to get ‘Moose’ (Elliott) in there. Get some NHL action, which he hasn’t had in a while.’’
Hart received some words of encouragement from Gordon and his teammates as he left the ice. In a way, the Flyers might have let him down a bit.
“We can’t start like that if we want to win games,’’ offered Oskar Lindblom. “They are the best team in the league right now. It’s tough to get back from 3-0.’’
Hart said: “He (Gordon) said ‘it’s not all on you.’ But three goals on nine shots, it’s on me, too. I have to be better. You have to put it behind you. . .games like this happen.’’
Elliott, who had not played since Nov. 15 (37 games), returned to action and showed no signs of rust, keeping Tampa off the scoreboard in the second period and to just one goal in the third.
“I felt good,’’ Elliott said. “Sometimes it’s best if you just get thrown in there. You’re not thinking about things too much, you’re just going out there and playing.’’
But the Flyers had trouble solving Tampa goaltender Louis Domingue, backup to starter Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Domingue did allow a goal by Lindblom at 1:03 of the third period and another by Travis Konecny at 10:51, but that’s all the Flyers could come up with in the way of offense.
After the Lindblom goal, Tampa Bay countered at 7:42 when Elliott allowed a short-side goal from a wide angle by Yanni Gourde. Konecny cut the lead to two goals when Konecny connected from the right side.
The Flyers did come up with 14 shots in the second period but Domingue was up to the task, at one point stopping three shots in about five seconds, including one on his back with his pad up in the air to block a puck.
Hart was pulled for just the second time this season. On New Year’s Eve, he was yanked after giving up three goals to the Hurricanes at Carolina.
Sergachev kicked things off when his long shot appeared to deflect off Shayne Gostisbehere’s leg and past Hart.
Alex Killorn made it 2-0 at 5:13. His short shot found the net, then Miller scored unassisted off a two-on-one at 10:23.
If not for the slow start, the Flyers might have had a chance.
“It seems to be our tendency against these guys,’’ Konecny said. “We drop behind, then fight our way back. I guess it was just a matter of us sitting back at the beginning of the game. They’re going to capitalize.’’
>Goal disallowed. . .again
The Flyers, who have had a number of goals called off due to goalie interference this season, thought they had a goal with 47.5 seconds to play, but referees waved it off, calling it goaltender interference by Sean Couturier. Gordon challenged, but after replay, the original call was upheld. Tampa then added an empty-net goal with 36.2 seconds to play on a shot by Ryan McDonagh.
“It’s kind of everybody’s interpretation of it,’’ Elliott said. “I’ll have to take a look at it (on video). But that doesn’t mean that much right now.’’
Couturier was puzzled by the call. It appeared the puck was still uncovered when he took a poke at it.
“He (ref John Brenk) called it classic goalie interference,’’ Couturier said. “I saw it, there was a loose puck, I hit it, I gave it a second whack, the goalie was already on his butt. I really don’t know what the explanation is. . .you’ll have to ask the NHL for that one.’’
Due to possible adverse weather conditions, the Flyers were considering either canceling or moving up the starting time of practice on Wednesday, in order to get an early start on the plane flight to Montreal for Thursday night’s game against the Canadiens. It’s supposed to start snowing in Philadelphia in mid-morning. . .Tampa improved to 22-6-2 on the road.