3 Stars: Flyers blow chance for home ice in first round with loss at Lightning

3 Stars: Flyers blow chance for home ice in first round with loss at Lightning

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers’ 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night at Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Fla. from the perspective of two players and one unit that struggled mightily in the third period.

 

That third period sure was ugly on Thursday night. For even more of a punch to the gut and just like the title suggests, this loss combined with the New York Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres makes the Rangers the second seed in the first round of the Metropolitan Division playoffs and eliminates the Flyers from any shot at home-ice advantage in the first round.

 

3. Tyler Johnson

The Lightning’s extremely impressive rookie forward made his presence felt early on Thursday night when he took a nice cross-ice pass from Steven Stamkos and blasted the puck past Flyers goalie Ray Emery just exactly two minutes into the game for the opening tally.

Fast-forward to the third period. Johnson hit cutting defenseman Eric Brewer, who was left wide-open in the slot by the porous Flyers defense (more on this in a bit). Brewer rifled a wrister past Emery for the eventual game-winning goal.

The first-period goal was Johnson’s 24th of the season. That ties him with Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon for most among rookies. That goal combined with his third-period assist gives Johnson 50 points on the year, third most among rookies.

Although MacKinnon will probably win the Calder Trophy, that’s not too shabby of a stat line for Johnson.

 

2. The Flyers’ third-period defense

Where to even start here? It was brutal.

About five minutes into the third, Lightning winger Richard Panik skated with the puck deep into the Flyers’ zone. Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn totally missed his check and let Panik escape around the net. Panik came out in front and began an offensive flurry that he eventually finished when the Flyers failed to cover him and he backhanded it past Emery for a 2-1 Lightning lead. There were Flyers all around Panik but they were all flatfooted and no one picked him up.

Things got worse on the aforementioned Brewer goal. Brewer was allowed to slide into the slot untouched after what looked like a miscommunication between Flyers winger Steve Downie and his defensemen. It was the third-to-last game of the season. Brutal breakdowns and miscommunications like that shouldn’t have happened.

Stamkos’ power-play goal later on wasn’t pretty either as Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn misplayed the puck and three Lightning players were there to pounce before Stamkos eventually cashed in.

It wasn’t like Tampa Bay dominated the period, either. Tampa had nine shots in the period, the same amount Philadelphia had. It just seemed like Tampa dominated the period because of how poorly the Flyers played defense.

It’s a bit worrisome considering there was fairly important home-ice advantage on the line for the Flyers. This kind of stuff needs to be cleaned up in the next two games.

 

1. Anders Lindback

Thought the Flyers were going to have an easier time with Lindback, the Lightning’s backup, in net in place of injured starter Ben Bishop?

Think again.

Lindback was superb as he made 36 saves for the victory in just his second start since late January.

Once he made that sprawling glove save on Flyers winger Tye McGinn in the first period, you just had a feeling it could be one of those nights.

Well, it was one of those nights. The Lightning netminder had basically every answer except for a Wayne Simmonds power-play goal and Sean Couturier’s gift of a goal that went off a Lightning defenseman’s stick and into the net.

Lindback now has seven wins on the season and three of those wins have come against the Flyers for a season-series sweep for the Lightning.

The Flyers never saw Bishop, one of the best goalies in the league this year, or the lethal Stamkos, who missed most of the season with a broken leg, during two of the meetings and were still swept by the Lightning.

 

As if the whole losing-a-chance-at-home-ice thing didn’t hurt enough, don’t look now because the Columbus Blue Jackets and Flyers remained tied for the third seed in the Metro at 91 points each.

But the Flyers currently have a game in hand since the jackets won’t play Sunday. The Flyers also hold the first tiebreaker, which is regulation and overtime wins. They have 38 of those while the Jackets have 37. The Jackets took the season series, 3-1, but that’s the second tiebreaker, as goofy as that may sound.

Don’t sleep on these last two games. There is a ton left to still be decided. Plus, the Flyers don’t want to fall into that last wild-card spot and have to book that flight to Boston next week.

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).