Lightning, Flyers meet in heavyweight bout
TAMPA, Fla. -- The team with the NHL's best record plays host to perhaps the league's hottest team as the Tampa Bay Lightning face the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena.
The Lightning (44-17-4) continue to lead the Eastern Conference, but the Flyers (34-20-10) are surging.
Philadelphia is 10-1-1 in its last 12 games. The Flyers' loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night that was their first in regulation in a full month.
So much can hinge on overtime and shootout, and a team's ability to pick up that second point with one last goal. The Lightning have played in four straight overtime games, winning three, including Thursday night's to close out a back-to-back with a win at Dallas.
"The guys have found a way all year -- as a staff, we're unbelievably proud of how we rebounded," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of his team winning on the road the night after a humbling home loss to lowly Buffalo.
The Lightning are now 9-4 this season in overtime and shootouts, and progress in that department has been a big part of the Flyers' turnaround. Philadelphia opened the season 1-7 in overtime games, but it has gone 9-3 since then to even its record at 10-10 in overtime and shootouts.
The Flyers' recent surge got a boost with the trade deadline addition of former Detroit Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek, who has played the last four games in net, going 3-1 with a sterling 1.96 goals-against average. Thursday's loss to Carolina saw some momentum slip away but also let Philadelphia shed the burden of a long points streak.
"You can dance around it all you want, but there is (a relief)," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Friday. "You're not going to win every game ... you have to be at your very best to have a chance to win."
The Lightning have the league's top scoring offense. Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL with 82 total points and ranks in the top five in goals (33) and assists (49). Steven Stamkos is not far behind with 25 and 47.
The Lightning also made a trade deadline push, adding defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller in a deal with the New York Rangers. Miller already has two assists and McDonagh should join the team next week when he's fully recovered from an upper-body injury.
The Flyers have the league's 28th-best penalty kill, so they'll have their hands full with Tampa Bay's power play, which ranks third in the league. The Flyers have their own solid scorer in left winger Claude Giroux, who has 22 goals and 53 assists for 75 points.
Philadelphia won the first meeting 5-3 in December against Tampa Bay's backup goalie, and Tampa Bay won 5-1 in January with Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal.
"We're going into arguably the best team in the league's building. We're going to have our response," Hakstol said of his team's chance to bounce back. "We're going to have to be at the top of our game."
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