PHILADELPHIA – Facing a team which hadn’t lost in weeks, the Flyers knew they had to play mistake-free hockey.
The plan almost worked.
However, the Flyers did make one error and the Tampa Bay Lightning, now winners of 10 straight games, made them pay for it on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
In the second period, Matt Niskanen attempted to bat an airborne puck out of harm’s way.
The defenseman essentially whiffed on the try, the puck plopped to the ice and ex-Flyer Pat Maroon was johnny on the spot, poking the loose disk past Carter Hart at the 7:27 mark.
That unassisted goal turned out to be the winner as the Flyers were shut out for the first time this season, 1-0.
“It’s a high flip and I’m trying to glove it to my partner (Ivan Provorov),’’ Niskanen said of the ill-fated play. “And it got caught in my glove. That happens 50 times a year where I just bat it out of danger and that one happened to get caught in my glove.
“It’s my fault. But tough play. Next time I’ll probably try to do the same thing and probably execute it.’’
Hart, who suffered just his second regulation-time loss at the Wells Fargo Center this season, was gallant in defeat. He turned aside a number of difficult tries and couldn’t be faulted for the outcome.
For Tampa, goalie Andrej Vasilevskiy picked up the shutout, which included a spectacular save on Travis Sanheim at the five-minute mark of the third period.
With the setback, the Flyers fell to 14-3-4 on home ice.
Coach Alain Vigneault acknowledged this was an airtight game and but for the lack of a close-range goal possibly could have gone a different way.
“You look at the goal they got, the bounce. . .we needed to get one of those greasy type goals,’’ he said. “There was not a lot of room to execute a lot of plays. You need your skill players to make a play for you or you need to get a dirty, greasy goal by getting people in front of the net. We tried but we weren’t able to.’’
One thing the Flyers did do well was stymie Tampa’s No. 2-ranked power play (29.0 percent going into the game). They held the Lightning scoreless in four tries and that came on the heels of Thursday night’s performance against Washington in which the Flyers blanked the Caps on five tries.
Against the Lightning, the Flyers had to kill off a four-minute double-minor high-sticking call against Travis Konecny late in the first period.
“We just kept it simple, guys were blocking shots, guys were doing what it takes to kill the penalty and we did a good job,’’ Tyler Pitlick said after the first intermission. We need to go as hard we can, it’s one go, all go, so we just got to be aggressive and keep going.”
Added Kevin Hayes at that first break: “We want to stay out of the box. Obviously, the penalty kill has been a good part of our team this year and they are one of the best (power-play teams), I think second best in the league and we can’t be giving them chances like that.’’
Scott Laughton said the Flyers were on their heels in the second period when the Flyers were outshot by a 13-6 margin.
“We did a really good job in the first period of creating pace and speed and coming through the neutral zone,’’ Laughton said. “That second period we watched them play and that’s what happens with a good team. They’re going to be in your zone most of the time and you’re not going to get a lot of shot opportunities.”
After scoring a power-play goal in five of six games, the Flyers have gone cold again in that department and now are on an 0-for-11 skid.
“Give credit to their (Tampa’s) penalty killing,’’ Vigneault said. “They were assertive, they were aggressive. They were blocking shots.’’
Jake Voracek has been moved to a down-low spot on the PP but that hasn’t produced much.
The Flyers blocked a lot of shots, too, 23 to be exact. A big reason why the Flyers were able to stop Washington and Tampa Bay in all nine of those power-play attempts.
“It’s something that teams that win do,’’ Vigneault said. “It’s just part of today’s game. You have to be able to defend, block shots.’’
Hart appreciated the sacrifice his teammates made.
“We didn’t give up a ton of chances,’’ Hart said. “That (23 blocks) was huge for us. I think it started last game against Washington. Guys were blocking shots. We’re getting into lanes and not giving them a whole lot of room to shoot.’’
The Flyers are off until Monday when they host Atlantic Division-leading Boston. . .Philadelphia entered the game with the NHL’s third-best home penalty kill (87.1 percent). . .Chris Stewart, who missed Friday’s practice due to illness, was a scratch. . .Oskar Lindblom, in a fight against a rare form of bone cancer, took in the game from the stands and received a big ovation when he was shown on the arena scoreboard.