Spying on the Saboteur: Philadelphia Flyers vs Tampa Bay Lightning

Tonight, the Philadelphia Flyers have the opportunity to go from the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference round-robin to the first seed. As the Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals will battle for the fourth and third seeds, the Flyers have proven their talent. One of the biggest challenges for Philadelphia comes in the form of the Tampa Bay Lightning. In 2019-2020, they are one of two teams the Flyers have yet to beat. The other is the New York Islanders.

Arguably, the Philadelphia Flyers are the best team during this round-robin. While both the Flyers and the Tampa Bay Lightning are 2-0-0 in the round-robin, it is important to note the strength of those performances. When the Lightning faced the Washington Capitals, they went to two overtime periods. Against the same competition, Philadelphia has a plus-five goal differential. Tampa Bay has a plus-two, including the long overtime battle.

Goaltending

Carter Hart will start at goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers against Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hart, 0-2-0 against the Lightning in 2019-2020, likely meets his largest challenge in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. In those two starts, Hart has allowed a total of five goals and averages a 90.1% save percentage. Vasilevskiy, 2-0-0 versus the Flyers, only surrendered three goals with an average save percentage of 94.6%.

During the round-robin tournament, the narrative is a little different. Andrei Vasilevskiy started and won both games with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Carter Hart has split the round-robin starts with Brian Elliott. In both games, Vasilevskiy had two goals sneak by. Hart has only allowed one goal against the Boston Bruins.

Over the body of work that both goaltenders have put in, I believe Andrei Vasilevskiy has an edge. Since the postseason, Carter Hart has made that gap even more narrow. Note that Curtis McElhinney could see some playing time. In the scenario that it is a tied game and McElhinney receives ice time, that would favor the Philadelphia Flyers.

Defense

Both teams have more than capable defenses. However, the Philadelphia Flyers have been capable of scoring while playing air-tight. During man-down hockey, the Flyers are perfect on the penalty kill throughout the round-robin. Philippe Myers and Travis Sanheim have been terrific so far. Tonight, Robert Hagg is out of the lineup, and Shayne Gostisbehere enters in an attempt to boost the powerplay unit.

Every goal came from the forwards of the Tampa Bay Lightning. They have been successful on the powerplay from the stick of Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn. With the absence of Steven Stamkos, the Philadelphia Flyers should be able to continue their dominance on defense. The Flyers held the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals top lines to no goals. I’ll give the nod to the Philadelphia defense, which in turn could boost Carter Hart.

Forwards

Steven Stamkos will not play tonight for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Jakub Voracek will miss tonight for the Philadelphia Flyers. This means that James van Riemsdyk will play tonight. Alain Vigneault will not shake up the second line that has been incredible throughout the round-robin. Expect Joel Farabee to see more playing time on the first line in Voracek’s absence.

Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier need to find their way onto the scoring sheet tonight. That could be the deciding factor between a win or loss for the Philadelphia Flyers. Against the Boston Bruins, the Flyers had fourth line magic. It is debatable that the Tampa Bay Lightning has a better fourth line unit. Tonight, Philadelphia must have a breakthrough on the powerplay.

Verdict

I do not have a real reason to double-down on this prediction, but I will not stray from it. I believe the Philadelphia Flyers solve the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. In the round-robin, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Carter Hart are equally impressive. Ultimately, the Lightning will be affected more by the absence of Steven Stamkos than the Flyers will be by Jakub Voracek. After all, James van Riemsdyk registered a goal on Vasilevskiy in 2019-2020.

Flyers 3, Lightning 2

Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

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