No matter what the outcome, Simon Gagne’s return to Philadelphia for the first time since being traded in mid-July was going to be the story of the contest.
It wound up that Bolts defenseman Pavel Kubina netted the game-winning score early in the third period to back 24 saves from Dan Ellis as the Tampa Bay Lightning clipped the Philadelphia Flyers by a 3-2 count on Thursday night.
Other than witnessing the sting of seeing the Flyers losing the game, the sellout crowd on South Broad Street was treated to a montage of Gagne’s best moments as a Flyer during a break in action early in the contest. The crowd thanked their former sniper with a three-minute ovation, during which the 30-year-old Quebec native rose from the bench and acknowledged the packed arena with a wave and nod.
Steven Stamkos added a goal and Dominic Moore also lit the lamp for the Lightning, who have opened the season with three straight wins for the first time since 2007-08 and snapped a three-game slide in Philly.
Gagne, who skated for 10 seasons over 11 years, posted 259 goals and 265 assists in 664 games with the Flyers from 1999-2010. He added 32 goals and 47 points in 90 playoff tilts, scored two big overtime goals for the club (Game 6 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals against Tampa Bay and Game 4 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals against Boston), while tallying the game-winner in Game 7 at Boston to cap a rally from an 0-3 series deficit and 0-3 deficit in the first period of that deciding game.
On Thursday, though, he recorded just one shot in just over 19 minutes of action.
Danny Briere and Nikolay Zherdev scored for the Flyers, who saw their first regulation loss of the year after starting the season 2-0-1. Brian Boucher allowed three goals on 24 shots in another tough loss, coming on the back of a 2-1 overtime setback in St. Louis last Saturday.
A one-goal Tampa edge became two at the 1:27 mark of the third period when a long shot from Kubina at the right point sailed through traffic and between Boucher’s pads for a 3-1 game.
The Flyers, though, got back within a goal when Briere fired home a turnaround wrister from the left circle at 9:59. The score seemed to surprise Ellis, who appeared to have sealed off the left post only to see the puck sail through.
Philadelphia successfully killed off two Lightning power plays in the latter stages of regulation, but failed to net an equalizer with an extra skater in the final 1:32 of the contest. It was just the second loss for the Orange and Black in their last eight games against Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay killed off a two-man disadvantage within the game’s first four minutes, and Ellis was able to withstand more Flyers chances until his teammates registered the first goal of the contest.
Stamkos was credited with the score, coming with 4:49 left to play in the first, shoveling home the rebound of a Steve Downie shot from the left side. Downie, never a stranger to controversy in his brief Flyers tenure, notched a pair of assists, as did noted Flyers killer Martin St. Louis.
Just under three minutes remained in the first when James van Riemsdyk dished from the left wing to the right side in front of the crease, where Zherdev redirected the puck with his leg while being pushed from behind.
Zherdev’s tally was his first regular-season score with Philadelphia, as well as his 100th career goal.
Ellis stoned Mike Richards on a shorthanded break in the first minute of the second period, but the Bolts were also unable to capitalize on a 5-on-3 minutes later.
Moore did put the visitors ahead at the 14:49 mark, when his tip of an Adam Hall pass barely made it through Boucher’s pads and over the goal line.