As the Flyers have been donned this 2010-11 season's Eastern Conference monsters to beat, this nom de guerre has been ignored by the Sunshine State's two inhabiting NHL squads.
Before Tuesday night our soldiers in Orange had not beaten the Bolts in their three prior encounters, and the last time the Flyers faced the Panthers we were shutout 5 - 0.
Beginning the 4-game road trip in the very state that's been a living hell on our schedule this was a do-or-die moment. We were staring a regular season sweep in the face while entertaining the possibility of being embarrassed again by one of the league's cellar dwellers. Hopefully with the new acquisition of former Leaf, Kris Versteeg, and a little strategy change influenced by lessons learned.....we'd redeem past failures in two consecutive days.
Redemption was on the menu, and our boys ordered it Well Done.
What better way to gain our only regular season victory against the Lightning than to do it in dramatic shootout fashion?
With Boucher in the cage and our lines running a nuetral zone trap setup, the Flyers managed to get the upper hand midway through the second period. Goals scored by James vanRiemsdyk, Scott Hartnell and a classic successful penalty shot from Darroll Powe giving Philadelphia the lead 3 - 1.
Up until then, our trap strategy had turned this game into trench warfare. You gain control and set the puck up in your own zone daring the opposition to come get you....virtually creating a "No Man's Land" between the two. To some viewers and spectators, this had become a rather boring contest. However to a few of us, this was a display of Laviolette's genius in the making.
Before, Tampa had ran something similar against us. Our aggressive onslaught would sometimes playout with sloppy results which unfortunately the Bolts took full advantage of.
Not this time.
This time we fought fire with fire, and happily it favored our scoreboard. But like clockwork the Flyers skated on their heels with the 2-goal lead. We started missing opportunities while giving up a few of our own. Tampa manipulated a comeback which froze the score at 3 - 3 through the third and the OT period, blowing the game's sails into an OT shootout round.
Philadelphia's success in the shootout mirrored that of Jenna Jameson's plastic surgery; a nightmarish disaster minus the duck lips (SFW). Tampa Bay, however, enjoyed much more triumph.
Once Danny Briere and Claude Giroux's attempts were denied by Bolts net tender, Dwayne Roloson, it was Tampa's forward Dominic Moore that put the heavy pressure on Philadelphia with the shootout's first goal.
It was up to Mike Richards to keep this train steaming forward.
His wrist shot smacked the cross bar at high speed and made nest behind Roloson for the Flyers' first shootout goal. Boucher and his golden glove made three more consecutive saves on NHL superstars Simon Gagne, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos.....something, I admit, I would never in my wildest imagination believe unless I saw it for myself.
Kimmo Timonen was the Bully to turn the pressure table around onto Tampa once he buried the puck on the Flyers' seventh try.
The homecrowd eyes set onto the Bolts' alternate captain, Martin St Louis, but Quebec native was unable to sneak the rubber passed Boosh and for the first time this season the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning.
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Life was good for newcomer Kris Versteeg. He's 24-years old with a lot of NHL potential. He's got a Stanley Cup ring. And he's fresh outta Toronto and off a squad who's currently showing no glimmer of improvement. Not to mention he's sprung from the grip of a GM (Brian Burke) who has easily become the butt end of a lot of inner league jokes.
But 'Steeg's still without a point in a Flyers sweater. NO TIME TO PANIC, DAMN IT! He's only skated in one game.
Yesterday he dressed for his second contest as a Broad Street Bully and wasted no time proving his gritty worth to this already Cup bound Philadelphia team.
8-minutes and 36-seconds into the 1st period, Versteeg had his stick blade behind the game puck deep inside the Panthers zone. There he stood waiting, watching and anticipating a crashing Mike Richards who he dished the rubber to and gained a point on Richie's 1 - 0 goal.
The city of Philadelphia rejoiced the acquisition once again as Richards glided his way over to congrat and thank #10.
With the late news of Leino's day-to-day lower body injury, Andreas Nodl filled in for the scratched key piece on Briere's forward line. Only a minute after our Captain's potted plant, Nodl caught a rocket in the crease from Danny Briere and tipped in his first goal in a 19-game drought.
"It's been a while. I've been waiting. I think I've gotten a lot of chances and I finally got one." ~ Nodl mentioned in an interview.
Nodl not only contributed on the scoreboard, but in the save percentage as well.
After James van Riemsdyk continued his point streak to 2-games with putting the Flyers ahead 3 - 0, it was Andreas Nodl who came to Sergei Bobrovsky's rescue deep in the 2nd period.
The puck broke free in the Flyers zone and met Florida's defenceman, Jason Garrison, at the strong point. From there, Garrison heavy wristed a shot on Bobrovsky's blockerside. The rubber snuck passed Bob but only to meet an Andreas Nodl who stood like a wall discontinuing the shot from advancing over the line. Not once, but TWICE!
There was some skepticism which sent the questionable highlight up to the Toronto War Room. There the no-goal was reviewed for several minutes. Since there was no visual evidence of the puck crossing the line completely because of Nodl's convenient skate, it was then officially ruled a no-goal.
It's a true test of being a team player to give yourself up like that when your squad leads 3 - 0. A lot of props go to Andreas especially since his move in net is what kept the Flyers from possibly going into another overtime.
Once again our Philadelphia Flyers manage to keep their fans scratching their heads in confusion.
When the puck dropped at mid-ice to start the 3rd, luckily the Flyers had the lead. The Panthers had us on our heels all 20-minutes long, and like time and time before our potential shutout hopes were flushed down the plumbing like a Thanksgiving dump.
Less than two minutes into the period Rostislav Olesz took on his own rebound and backhanded the puck over a grounded Bobrovsky giving the Panthers their first lit lamp of the tilt, 3 - 1.
Like a ghost from season's past, David Booth grits himself into the slot, splits a crashing Meszaros and O'Donnell blue line, and deposits the puck where a castaway fires his flare.
The game got exciting for all 187 Panthers fans, while simultaneously making Flyers nation's ass pucker.
By now I have this look of not being surprised. The expression was a mixture of disgust and a soldier witnessing a live grenade getting beached in his bunker hole.
Here the Flyers had a cut throat lead and managed to lose it and put themselves in a position to drop the 'W' in a matter of minutes.
7-minutes and 31-seconds left in the game is entirely too much time considering the performance we've put up in the 3rd. Here came the nail biting.
If it weren't for the poke-checking in the defensive zone and heart stopping saves by Sergei Bobrovsky, our Flyers would have never been able to pullout a win.
With less than a minute remaining in regulation, Florida pulled Vokoun and suffered Philadelphia's 4th goal after Briere brokeaway and slipped the puck in an empty net.
* * *
All in all, a success. Two wins in a row bringing our point total to a commanding Conference leading 81.
But what a way to do it. Two games that kept you on the edge of your seat by the end, and enough to demand more CPR to its fans than all of Florida's retirement villages combined.
Frustration and excitement are two emotions every Flyers fanatic has experienced collaterally all season long. The last two nights kept that momentum rolling. Let's all hope and pray we've figured Tampa out just in case we need to face them in a playoff round, and the next and last time we face the Panthers we're able to play the last 20-minutes and put them away.
Until then, let's remain the Monsters of the East and never allow an opponent to second guess it.
Good night. Good hockey.