Deafening cheers reverberated around the Wells Fargo Center as Super Bowl-bound Eagles coach Doug Pederson dropped the ceremonial first puck Thursday night before the Flyers faced Tampa Bay.
They would be the loudest cheers of the night.
Tampa Bay, the NHL’s top team, erupted for three second-period goals en route to a 5-1 win, snapping the Flyers’ four-game winning streak.
All-star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made 36 saves to improve his record to 29-9-2. A late goal by Travis Konecny prevented him from collecting his eighth shutout of the season.
Despite the loss, the Flyers (24-17-8) arrive at the all-star break in a playoff spot thanks to a stunning 16-6-1 turnaround since they lost 10 straight.
“It’s frustrating to go into a break like this, but at the same time, we have to look at what we’ve been doing for a month or so and we have to build on it when we come back,” captain Claude Giroux said.
“We’ve put ourselves in the right spot,” Konecny said. “It’s tough saying that when you lose a game like this, but we did a lot of good things up to this point.”
Oddly, the Flyers’ last three losses were by 5-1 scores. They put together four-game winning streaks after each of the first two 5-1 defeats.
As the final minutes wound down Thursday, the fans sang “Fly Eagles Fly” and chanted “E-A-G-L-E-S.”
Konency’s power-play goal got the Flyers to within 3-1 with 6 minutes, 42 seconds left. It was his fourth goal in the last four games and 10th of the season.
But the Lightning iced the win 47 seconds later as Vladislav Namestnikov scored after a dazzling setup by Nikita Kucherov. Namestnikov closed the scoring with 2:49 remaining.
Second-period goals by Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, and Ryan Callahan (shorthanded) gave the Lightning a 3-0 lead as they avenged last month’s 5-3 home loss and raised their road record to 17-7-2, best in the NHL.
The Lightning used a tenacious two-man forecheck that frustrated the Flyers in the second period. Twenty-five seconds into the period, Point spun away from Giroux, got position on Robert Hagg, and scored on a point-blank backhander to put the Lightning ahead, 1-0.
Gourde, a 5-foot-9, 172-pound rookie who went undrafted, scored his 17th goal to increase the lead to 2-0 with 10:04 left in the second. Matthew Peca was allowed to skate in, and Michal Neuvirth turned aside his shot, but Gourde knocked in the rebound.
“We left guys unchecked,” right winger Wayne Simmonds said.
“We didn’t give up a lot, but the chances they got were pretty good and they capitalized,” said center Sean Couturier, whose team outshot the Lightning, 37-22.
Callahan’s goal, just his second of the season and first since Oct. 24, was a highlight-film tally. It was also a back-breaker for the home team. Skating down the left side, Callahan went around Shayne Gostisbehere with a gorgeous move and beat Neuvirth to make it 3-0 with 2:31 to go in the second.
It was the eighth shorthanded goal allowed by the Flyers this season – and the eighth scored by the Lightning.
Tampa Bay, the league’s highest-scoring team, managed just three shots in a Flyers-dominated first period that ended scoreless.
The Flyers had nine shots in the first, and many of them were high-quality chances. But Vasilevskiy had all the answers, including two good opportunities by Giroux, and a Konecny breakaway and his subsequent rebound.
“I don’t think the score reflects how we played,” Couturier said. ‘We had some good chances, but he made some good saves. Overall, I thought we played all right, but it’s frustrating their goalie made some big saves to keep their lead.”