The Tampa Bay Lightning were facing a pretty huge game in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon.
They entered the day just three points back of the Flyers for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference (and two points back of Toronto for the third spot in the Atlantic Division) and had a chance to close some significant ground on a team they are chasing in the standings.
Things even got off to a strong start when a Nikita Kucherov goal gave them an early first period lead. Then everything kind of fell apart for them as they gave up three consecutive goals on their way to a rather lackluster 4-2 loss.
It was a particularly poor showing for the Lightning in a pretty important game that they not only failed to gain a point in, but were also badly outplayed for much of day.
Simmonds was not penalized on the play and Brown did not return to the game after the hit.
Since there was pretty clear contact with the head you can bet that it is already being reviewed by the NHL’s department of player safety. It is just a matter of whether or not the deem it to be worthy of discipline. Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the game that it was a “tough” hit and that what he says about it “doesn’t matter.”
If Brown can not play on Sunday in Pittsburgh against the Penguins in a rematch of the Eastern Conference Final it would be another injury for a Tampa Bay team that has been crushed by injuries at different times this season. The team has been forced them to have three different players make their NHL debut over the past three weeks.
But what should be concerning about Saturday’s game isn’t just the fact that they lost, it is that they were outplayed against a team that had lost five in a row and seven out of eight, on a day where they really needed a win, with several of their top players back in the lineup. Yes, Steven Stamkos, Ben Bishop, and Brian Boyle were not there. But they still had Kucherov, Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Valtteri Filppula, Victor Hedman, and Anton Stralman in there. They should have been able to get more than they did out of that group.
With the loss the Lightning are now 19-18-4 on the season and are five points back of the Flyers for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
They remain two points back of the Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division, but the Maple Leafs can increase that lead on Saturday night with a win against Montreal while they will also still have two games in hand after Saturday.