Lightning, Flyers face off for No. 1 seed in East
In a week of round-robin matches to determine seeding in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers will meet in a winner-take-all game for the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed on Saturday in Toronto.
The teams will conclude round-robin play when they square off for the third time at Scotiabank Arena, with the winner drawing the 12th-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the next round and the loser locked into the No. 2 seed.
The Canadiens beat the fifth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins 2-0 on Friday to win their series in four games and advance to play the round-robin winner.
As for the Flyers and Lightning, both teams hold 2-0-0 records with four points and will set theirs paths for the playoffs on Saturday.
The crucial weekend match essentially becomes the makeup of the game that never was.
Having already dropped two games to the Lighting in 2020, the Flyers were on Florida's West Coast on March 12, hoping to avenge two earlier losses to the Lightning, 1-0 on Jan. 11 and 5-3 on Feb. 15.
But the meeting between teams sitting in second place at the time -- Philadelphia behind the Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division and Tampa Bay behind the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic -- was not played as COVID-19 shut down the sports world. The NHL soon entered its extended pause.
Tampa Bay's two round-robin games have followed similar scripts -- lead fairly comfortably early and win late in dramatic fashion.
After letting a 2-0 lead slip away against the Capitals on Monday, with Washington scored the tying goal in the last minute of regulation, the Lightning emerged with a 3-2 shootout win.
Tyler Johnson provided the heroics Wednesday, netting the game-winning tally on a rebound with 1:27 remaining against Boston after the defensive unit again wasted a two-goal advantage. Tampa Bay again won 3-2.
Forward Blake Coleman, traded to the Lightning by the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 16 for Nolan Foote and a conditional first-round pick, said his new team needs to do a better job of protecting the leads they build.
He said a main reason for Wednesday's win was the penalty-kill unit, which kept Boston scoreless on its four power plays.
"Our (penalty) kill bailed us out there," Coleman said. "I think in both games we got up to the 2-0 leads and we let the teams back in the games. That's something we're aware of and something we'll harp on I'm sure."
The Flyers are perfect in Toronto despite having a few key contributors out of the lineup.
Brian Elliott replaced usual starter Carter Hart in net Thursday and made it pay off with 16 saves in his 46th career playoff appearance in the Flyers' 3-1 victory over Washington.
Left wing James van Riemsdyk was out of the lineup against Washington and replaced by Connor Bunnaman, who swapped shifts with van Riemsdyk in Wednesday's practice.
Michael Raffl was injured Sunday in Philadelphia's 4-1 win over Boston and also missed the Washington contest after coach Alain Vigneault said he would "not be available for a while."
However, the club's second line of Scott Laughton, Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny has stepped up and dominated in the first two round-robin wins. The trio owns 10 points (three goals, seven assists), with Hayes contributing by starting zone time with heavy puck possession.
"They're certainly without a doubt our best line at this moment," Vigneault said. "I think offensively and defensively (Thursday), this was their best night."
--Field Level Media