After Steven Stamkos went down with his leg injury a few months ago, no one expected the Lightning would be up at the top of the Atlantic Division standings with just a few weeks to go before the Olympic break. Yet that’s exactly where Tampa Bay finds themselves after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday afternoon with a 6-3 win.
Although they failed to control the play for the majority of the game, the Lightning benefited from some timely giveaways by the Flyers defense, and some shoddy goaltending to boot, as they took a 2-0 lead en route to their three-goal victory. Valtteri Filppula was the star of the game, with the game-winning goal and an assist, while Anders Lindback stopped 35 shots. Flyers goalie Steve Mason was pulled during the second intermission after allowing five goals on just 17 shots – including two that he probably would have liked to have back.
Tampa struggled all over the ice, with just a 43 percent faceoff percentage, 13 giveaways, and a 0-for-3 power play. The Flyers were skating circles around them for the majority of the game, and had some incredible chances to take the lead at crucial points of the game. But Tampa’s defense, along with timely saves by Lindback, kept the Lightning competitive for 60 minutes, culminating in a win that gave them their 58th point of the season, which leaves them in a tie for first place with the Boston Bruins (the Bruins currently have the tiebreaker).
Despite the majority of their offense centered around Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, the Lightning have some of the best forward depth in the league – a surprise to anyone following the league this season. Filppula is the team’s second-leading scorer with 36 points, while former fourth-liner Teddy Purcell is right behind him with 28. Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson, each in their first full NHL season, sit fourth and fifth on the team in scoring. Ironically, Stamkos is the sixth-best forward on the team, despite playing nearly 30 games less than those sitting ahead of him.
With all of this talent, and most of it staying put during the Olympic break to get a rest, imagine what more this team could do as we hit March and April. They have been hovering around the top ten in team offense and defense, and have been slowly climbing the standings all season. With the right formula, the Lightning could be one of the shocking teams come playoff time.