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Thursday, November 10, 2011
Bizarre first period overshadows interesting Flyers-Lightning clash

By Scott Burnside


For those hockey fans who thought they saw the end of civilization as we know it in the early stages of Wednesday's interesting tilt between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Tampa Bay Lightning, uh, take a page from the Flyers/Lightning playbook and relax.

Or, as the Flyers did in the face of a passive 1-3-1 Tampa Bay defense at the start of the game, just stand still and breathe deeply. And breathe. And breathe.

OK, you get it.

The curious moments of the Lightning's 2-1 overtime victory -- twice in the opening five minutes, Philly held the puck in its own end, trying to get the Lightning to break up their 1-3-1 formation -- had social media types and commentators venting as though the glowing puck had made a sudden comeback and the NHL was contemplating a return to Atlanta.

Chris Pronger
Flyers captain Chris Pronger returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing six games with an eye injury.

Just for a minute, let's not take ourselves too seriously.

Officials immediately explained to both teams that the puck needed to keep moving or they would blow the play dead. NHL officials told ESPN.com there is nothing in the league's rulebooks that would further penalize a team; but anyone who thinks having 10 guys go rigor mortis is going to happen every night, well, those same people also likely think the Columbus Blue Jackets are on the right track.

Of course, there will now be debates about whether a penalty should be imposed for inertia. Go ahead. It will be called about as often as the so-called "Sean Avery penalty" that was rushed into existence after he did his stick shimmy in front of Martin Brodeur in the playoffs.

Those who seemed shocked by the Lightning's more passive 1-3-1 defense early on (presumably to counter the Flyers' league-best offense) obviously hadn't seen much of the Lightning's four-game sweep of the Washington Capitals in the second round last season. The Lightning used patience and timely scoring to defeat the top team in the Eastern Conference, a strategy that was no different Wednesday night.

"We didn't do anything different than we do all the time," Tampa Bay forward Dominic Moore told ESPN.com after the game. "[The Flyers' reaction at the start of the game] was not really that big of a deal. Every team has strategies that they try out."

The momentary game of freeze tag overshadowed what was a pretty interesting game.

Philadelphia captain Chris Pronger returned to action for the first time since suffering a potentially serious eye injury on Oct. 24 against Toronto. He played 16:17, almost a third of which was spent in the penalty box (two minor penalties), kind of what you would expect from the big man in his first game back.

Scott Hartnell continued his impressive offensive stretch, tipping in a point shot midway through the second period to help the Flyers finally deliver on the power play after coming up dry the past three games (it was his fourth goal in the past six games). The goal gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead.

Although it looked like the Flyers' game plan might yield a victory, Tampa Bay defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron continued his torrid scoring pace, tying the score at 1 before the eight-minute mark of the third period with a shot that eluded Flyers netminder Ilya Bryzgalov. Bergeron, deemed too much of a defensive liability to be an everyday NHLer in previous stops, has found a home in Tampa Bay and his goal gave him the lead among NHL defensemen with 16 points.

Lightning rookie Brett Connolly scored the winning goal in overtime and now has three goals in his past four games. It was a little poetic justice after he muffed a glorious chance late in the third period. But the real work on the goal was done by Moore, who drove the net and allowed Connolly to put home the rebound.

The game also featured solid performances from two netminders who have seen their ups and downs this season.

Although the Lightning ended up outshooting the Flyers 24-15, Tampa netminder Dwayne Roloson was especially sharp late in regulation and in overtime.

"Rolie was very sharp," Moore said. "Sometimes it's actually harder when you're not getting a ton of shots."