TAMPA — Steven Stamkos admitted his explanation for the Lightning’s 5-3 loss to the Flyers on Friday night was boring.
But it was also fitting.
"We didn’t play well," he said. "Didn’t deserve to win."
Coach Jon Cooper hasn’t had many post-game media briefings like this one, the Lightning having lost just its seventh game in regulation. So he offered a simple tongue-and-cheek take.
"We (stunk)," Cooper said. "Just list them off. Penalty kill? (Stunk). Didn’t shoot the puck — (stunk). Turnovers? (Stunk). Keep going. Didn’t defend — (stunk). Coaching? (Stunk). That’s just how it was."
One player who didn’t stink was backup goaltender Peter Budaj, who got the start and played well before having to get helped off the ice midway through the third with an apparent left leg injury. While Budaj returned to the bench — for moral support — and was walking around the locker room post-game, Cooper indicated the Lightning may have to call up another goalie from AHL Syracuse (hunch: veteran Louis Domingue). Budaj was making just his seventh start of the season behind No. 1 Andrei Vasilevskiy.
"He’s got one of the toughest jobs in sports," Stamkos said. "Battled tonight. Then you see him get hurt. You just hope he’s okay. We didn’t do him any favors tonight."
Stamkos gave the Lightning (27-8-2) an early lead on a power-play goal, his third goal in the past two games. But it was the only lead Tampa Bay would hold all game. The Flyers, also playing on the back end of a back-to-back, responded with two consecutive power play goals in the second, then a dagger of a goal with 11 seconds left to make it 3-2.
"They just played better than us," Cooper said.
Sure, the Lightning showed plenty of fight. Had Flyers goaltender Brian Elliott not been so stellar, robbing Tampa Bay several times, this game might have gone to overtime. Tyler Johnson, looking more and more like the 2014-15 All-Star version, electrified the crowd nine minutes into the third with a shorthanded goal off the rush. He’s now earned points in each of his last 10 games.
But the sellout crowd was soon hushed when Budaj went down, crumpling after Flyers’ center Scott Laughton slid in behind him. Budaj was faced down on the ice for a few moments, then helped off.
"When you see a guy injured like that, it obviously hurts," Johnson said.
Former Lightning center Valtteri Filppula fittingly finished it off with an empty-netter in the final minute. This was just the Lightning’s second loss in December (10-2), its 56 points still a franchise record at this point in the season. But as the calendar soon flips to 2018, Tampa Bay faces a daunting schedule with 13 of the next 16 on the road. That starts with a five-game road trip that begins Sunday in Columbus, with matchups against divisional opponents Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Detroit.
So this type of effort has to be a lesson, a reminder that Tampa Bay isn’t a finished product.
"When you win games a lot of things get swept under the rug by you and the video as a team, by the media. Sometimes they just see you win," Stamkos said. "There’s flaws in our game that we want to improve on. Just because we are winning doesn’t mean we’re satisfied. By no means where we satisfied tonight. It just crept through our game tonight enough to have a team that was hungrier than we were. They were coming off a loss last night. We just didn’t have the will to win and the will to play the right way."
In other words: the Lightning (stunk).
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 16 (Kucherov, Hedman), 7:27 (pp).
Second Period—2, Philadelphia, Simmonds 12 (Couturier, Voracek), 6:56 (pp). 3, Philadelphia, Gostisbehere 8 (Simmonds, Giroux), 10:03 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Point 16 (Kucherov, Palat), 15:37. 5, Philadelphia, Couturier 18 (Konecny, Giroux), 19:48.
Third Period—6, Philadelphia, Manning 4 (Giroux, Konecny), 1:53. 7, Tampa Bay, Johnson 10, 8:58 (sh). 8, Philadelphia, Filppula 9 (Couturier, Voracek), 19:27.
Shots on Goal—Philadelphia 9-15-14—38. Tampa Bay 7-13-7—27.
Power-play opportunities—Philadelphia 2 of 6; Tampa Bay 1 of 3.
Goalies—Philadelphia, Elliott 14-9-7 (27 shots-24 saves). Tampa Bay, Budaj 3-3-1 (33-29), Vasilevskiy 24-5-1 (4-4).
A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:36. Referees—Kevin Pollock, Garrett Rank. Linesmen—Scott Driscoll, Andrew Smith.