The Toronto Maple Leafs put forth their best effort in a while but still fell 4-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday and probably played themselves out of the playoffs, writes Mike Brophy.
They played better. They really did. They just weren't good enough.
The Toronto Maple Leafs played their best game since beating the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 March 13, but still wound up on the short end of a 4-2 score against the Flyers in Philadelphia Friday night.
And they probably played themselves out of the playoffs.
The Maple Leafs are still mathematically eligible for the post-season, but given the fact they are riding a seven-game losing streak and host the seemingly playoff-bound Detroit Red Wings Saturday night, they don't stand much of a chance.
The Flyers entered the third period leading 2-1, then out-scored Toronto 2-1 to secure the victory. Was it the final nail in the Maple Leafs coffin?
Luckily for Toronto, the Columbus Blue Jackets also lost. The Blue Jackets hold the first wild card playoff spot and have two games in hand on Toronto. The Red Wings possess the other wild card spot at the moment.
Coach Randy Carlyle continues to take the high road after yet another loss.
"It just seems like we play some decent hockey and overall we didn't think we had that bad of a night, but we were on the wrong side of the score and that's what counts the most," Carlyle said.
Carlyle then added, "We came here to work and we worked hard. Did we work smart enough in some areas? No. We gave ourselves a chance. A lot of things are working against us so we just have to take it for what it is. We have an opportunity (Saturday) night to play against a team and it's the biggest game of the year."
Worst start imaginable
The Maple Leafs are known for getting off to lousy starts and Friday night was no exception.
It started when defenceman Cody Franson had his shot from the point blocked by Zac Rinaldo. Afterwards, Franson used his free hand to halt the Flyers player and was penalized. Twenty-four seconds later Nikolai Kulemin of the Maple Leafs was sent off for tripping Claude Giroux. That gave the Flyers a two-man advantage for 1:36 and they cashed in instantly as veteran centre Vinny Lecavalier struck three seconds later -- yes, three seconds -- on a one-timer. It was the 399th goal of his career.
As if the Maple Leafs weren't in a deep enough hole, centre Jay McClement was booted from the faceoff circle which put defenceman Dion Phaneuf in for the draw. It was said to be the first faceoff Phaneuf has taken in his NHL career. Might be the last.
Based on the fact the Flyers scored three seconds after the faceoff, you know how that worked out. Giroux drew the puck back to defenceman Kimmo Timonen who directed it Lecavalier's way and he slapped it past goalie Jonathan Bernier.
It was the seventh time the Maple Leafs have allowed a goal while playing two men short in the last 10 attempts.
Defenceman Carl Gunnarsson appeared to draw the Maple Leafs to even on what would have been his second goal in as many games at 9:33, but it was waved off. Toronto's Joffrey Lupul was adjudged to have bumped into Philadelphia goalie Steve Mason. The Flyers Matt Reade steered him toward the net, but Lupul made no attempt to avoid the goalie.
This one counted
No. 1 centre Tyler Bozak looked as though he was primed to pull the puck back on the opening faceoff of the second period, but instead he pushed it ahead. Bozak retrieved it and instantly sent the puck to former Flyer James van Riemsdyk who snapped a shot past Philadelphia goalie Steve Mason after just four seconds.
It was a team record for fastest goal from the start of a period eclipsing Matts Sundin's mark of six seconds in overtime vs. St. Louis. It tied the league record set by Claude Provost of the Canadiens (1957) and Denis Savard of the Blackhawks (1986).
Bad play; good call, good goal
Toronto's David Bolland was sent off for interference for hauling down Philadelphia fourth-liner Rinaldo at 10:58 of the second period. That begs the question, why would anybody interfere with Rinaldo? The guy has six goals in 159 games.
The penalty led to the Flyers taking a 2-1 lead as Scott Hartnell tipped a shot past Bernier. The goal came just five seconds after the penalty and again was the direct result of a lost faceoff by Toronto.
The Flyers appeared to be vulnerable heading into the third period, but that, apparently, was just an illusion. They held tough and now must be considered a team that will ultimately challenge for the Eastern Conference title in the playoffs. Giroux and Wayne Simmonds scored for the Flyers while David Bolland responded with his first goal since returning from his severed Achilles issue.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.