Sitting with the third-lowest point total in the Eastern Conference entering the night, Tampa Bay was a desperate team. Suffering through a 3-8-1 stretch, the Bolts, along with their hopes for the postseason, have been sinking rather quickly.
The two most prevalent issues of the night would be Philadelphia's inability to cash in on numerous high-quality scoring chances, and Tampa's proficiency for making the most out of a small number of opportunities.
Tampa Bay defenseman Bruno Gervais, playing in just his 13th game of the season, staked the Lightning to a 1-0 lead 9:34 into the opening stanza. Gervais flipped a wrister towards the net through a screen that seemed to glance off of Philly forward Brayden Schenn's stick in front of Ilya Bryzgalov, changing the shot's direction and deflecting it past the goalie for his 3rd goal of the year.
Philadelphia's Claude Giroux, the NHL's leading scorer, found another way to help the team get on the scoreboard. Known for his wizardry with the puck, Giroux threw another move into the offensive arsenal late in the first period. He appeared to intentionally shoot the puck wide of the net and moved in to grab the rebound off the boards, then whirled and fired a shot on net that Garon stopped. The puck caromed out in front, where Scott Hartnell pounced on in the slot and fired under Garon's stick arm and into the net for his 17th goal of the season to tie the score at 1-1 with just 1:46 remaining. It was Giroux's 44th point of the year, and he sits atop the scoring race, two points ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin's 42.
Even though the Flyers had outshot the Bolts by a lopsided 17-4 count, the game was tied at the first intermission, as Philadelphia seemed to be trying to be too perfect with their chances. Hartnell had a breakaway early on in the tilt, holding the puck so long waiting for Garon to make the first move that he completely lost any angle with which to shoot, ending up behind the net without even attempting a shot on goal.
Play in the middle frame would favor the home club, as Tampa would win the shots battle, 8-3, and score all three goals along the way.
Stamkos picked up his first goal of the night 7:25 into the second, left alone in the slot with enough time to pick up a Brett Clark rebound, move from forehand to backhand, and slide the puck past Bryzgalov for his 21st of the season and a 2-1 Lightning lead.
Midway through the period, the Lightning took full advantage of a Philadelphia defensive breakdown. After Bryzgalov made a save on Teddy Purcell, the rebound kicked to his right, where Steve Downie was left all alone. The former Flyer had three quarters of the net to shot at, and he made no mistake, recording just his fifth goal of the season at 11:41 to make it a two-goal Tampa Bay lead at 3-1.
After Max Talbot boarded Lightning defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron in the Flyers' offensive right wing corner, he vehemently argued the call, earning an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. Stamkos would strike again on the ensuing power play, left alone to knock in a Downie rebound with 1:15 left in the second period. With his second of the evening, Stamkos is now tied for the NHL lead in goals with New York Rangers' sniper Marian Gaborik with 22 for the year.
Philadelphia put pressure on Garon and the Bolts in the third, notching the first eight shots of the period, but they could not break through. Vincent Lecavalier would provide the only goal of the final frame, picking the far side top corner over Bryzgalov's stick side following a beautiful feed from Martin St. Louis with 59.7 seconds remaining in regulation. The captain's 12th goal of the season made it a 5-1 Lightning lead, providing the final margin of victory.
Although the Flyers had outshot the Bolts, 32-16, Bryzgalov stopped just 11 shots. When asked how he felt about his performance in a postgame interview, the Philly starter sarcastically snapped "Outstanding. How I can describe it? What do you think?" The first-year Flyer then dropped a rather clearly stated "F-bomb" on live television.
Bryzgalov dropped something else -- his fourth straight decision (0-3-1), and now holds a 14-8-3 mark for the year.
After a seven-game winning streak, Philadelphia is now limping into Jan. 2 Winter Classic. They lost back-to-back road games in regulation for the first time all year and have now lost four of their last five (1-3-1). The club's overall defensive play has been suspect, at best, yielding 18 goals in the five contests. The offense hasn't been much better during the stretch, managing to put the puck in the opponent's net just nine times in the five games.
The bevy of missed first period scoring opportunities seemed to doom the orange and black on this night, as did the play of Garon. The 33-year-old journeyman evened his record at 9-9-2, and has seemingly wrestled the starting job away from slumping 42-year-old netminder Dwayne Roloson.
For Tampa, the win didn't come without a price, as defenseman Victor Hedman left early in the contest with an "upper body injury" and did not return.