The Tampa Bay Lightning face off tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers at 7:00pm. After the 1-3-1 debacle the last time the two teams faced, the big question is: what will Philly do?
There is no love lost between the Tampa Bay Lightning (12-14-2) and Philadelphia Flyers (17-7-3). They may not be a "rivalry" matchup per se -- can it be a rivalry if the hatred only goes one way? -- but over the years, Tampa Bay fans have developed an especial loathing for all things having to do with Philadelphia.
The Lightning lost to the Flyers in back in the playoffs in 1996 -- the Bolts' first time in the postseason -- and then beat the Flyers in the 2004 Eastern Conference Final. Then, in 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays in embarrassing fashion in the World Series, and the "rivalry" between the two cities was all but confirmed. Tampa Bay fans want nothing more than to crush the heart and souls of any team from Philly; meanwhile, Philadelphia fans think it's all rather cute.
To add fuel to the fire, the last time these two teams faced, the Flyers turned the game into a national debate by refusing to engage the Lightning's 1-3-1 defensive "trap" scheme. For large portions of the first period, they simply sat on the puck in their own zone, refusing to advance it while the Lightning were in the 1-3-1 formation. The game was televised nationally on Versus, a station owned by Comcast (which is based in Philly), and the announcers had a field day criticizing the Lightning for playing such a "boring" defense.
So the question remains: will the Flyers attempt to wait out the Lightning's defense again tonight on the NHL Network? It seems likely that the Lightning will employ the 1-3-1 again, as it was effective last time and they have struggled on defense so much this season, so this game has the potential to turn into another national fracas.
The Lightning could desperately use a win tonight, but it won't come easy against the Flyers. The Bolts are currently the third-worst team in the Eastern Conference (26 points), and they just snapped a five game losing streak by beating the New York Rangers 2-1 in a shootout. Meanwhile, the Flyers are tied with the Florida Panthers for first place in the Eastern Conference (37 points), and they have won four games in a row coming into tonight.
The Bolts are also a weakened team at the moment, as Martin St. Louis is still out with an eye injury and Steve Downie could miss time due to his involvement in the Artem Anisimov incident. If they are going to win tonight, they will need to get heroic performances from their defense and their remaining offensive stars.
For more on tonight's game, drop by SB Nation's blog on the Lightning, Raw Charge.