Flyers vs. Lightning Preview
Tampa, FL (AP) - After their surprise run to the Stanley Cup finals, it wasn't a stretch to imagine the Philadelphia Flyers leading the Eastern Conference points race at the All-Star break.
Picturing the Tampa Bay Lightning right behind them was a bit more difficult to see.
The East's top two teams square off Tuesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, where the Flyers try to avenge a pair of home losses to the Lightning while denying the Southeast Division leaders a season-high sixth straight victory.
According to NHL odds and oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made the Lightning -120 money line favorites for Tuesday's game against the Flyers. Current NHL Public Betting Information shows that 74% of more than 5,044 bets for this game have been placed on the Lighting -120.
Philadelphia (33-12-5) stumbled out of the gate at 3-4-1, but has since been the East's most consistent team. The Flyers immediately followed that start with a 9-0-1 stretch, and they kicked off January with eight wins in their first nine games.
They went into the break on a high note as well. Philadelphia avenged its finals loss with a 4-1 win at Chicago on Jan. 23, then scored three power-play goals in a 5-2 victory over Montreal last Tuesday to pace the East with 71 points.
With two more wins than Vancouver, which also has 71 points, the Flyers lead the Presidents' Trophy race after 50 games for the first time since 1986-87.
"Going back to the playoffs last year and, now this year, there's been an expectation to win every game we play," coach Peter Laviolette told NHL.com. "I think there's a belief that we can win every game that we play. When you have an expectation and belief, that's a good combination."
There weren't many expectations on the Lightning (31-15-5) despite the presence of Steven Stamkos, but the NHL points leader at 67 has his team with the same number of points.
Tampa Bay won its last five games heading into the break to put itself four points ahead of Washington in the Southeast, and it's two games into a 12-game homestand - where it's 16-4-2. Simon Gagne scored twice in a 7-1 win over Atlanta on Jan. 23, then Dwayne Roloson made 26 saves in a 2-0 win over Toronto last Tuesday.
"We wanted to build off that (Thrashers) game,'' said forward Teddy Purcell, who had a goal and four assists in his last two contests. "We're rolling a little bit right now.''
What's most amazing is how they're doing it. Tampa Bay is 16-3-5 in one-goal games, making up for having surrendered more goals (152) than it's scored (149).
Despite often struggling on the back end in the season's first two months, the Lightning are getting better. They've given up one goal or fewer in 11 of their last 21 games, and five of those have occurred in the 10 games Roloson's started since he was acquired Jan. 1.
Roloson is 4-1-0 with a 1.61 goals-against average and two shutouts at home.
"We're very happy with what's going on with our goaltenders,'' coach Guy Boucher said.
The Lightning can't fare much worse between the pipes than they did Nov. 18 at Philadelphia, where Mike Smith and Dan Ellis combined to stop just 25 of 32 shots. Tampa Bay, however, got four shots past both Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky in a wild 8-7 victory.
Stamkos had a hat trick in that win, while Martin St. Louis had a career-high five assists. Stamkos also had a goal in a 3-2 victory at Philadelphia on Oct. 14.Flyers captain Mike Richards was limited to two assists in those losses, but he's been outstanding lately in central Florida. Richards has five goals and five assists as Philadelphia has won its last three in Tampa.
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