Maple Leafs lose ground in playoff race
Flyers hand Toronto 3rd loss in a row, while Sabres beat Bruins in overtime
Air Canada Centre, Toronto
Claude Giroux (Pha) — 1 goal, 1 assist
Mikhail Grabovski (Tor) — 1 goal
Brian Boucher (Pha) — 27 saves
It was always going to be a tough task for the Toronto Maple Leafs to get three or four points off the NHL Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers in a week, but that doesn't mean their loss to Philly at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday night stings any less.
The Flyers' 3-2 win over Toronto means the Maple Leafs are now mired in a three-game losing streak at the worst possible time — right in the midst of a playoff race that is threatening to leave them in the dust.
"We had a great chance today," said forward Mikhail Grabovski, who scored one of Toronto's goals. "[Now we need to] stay positive."
Only a short while ago, the Leafs were just three points out of eighth spot in the East and carrying a ton of momentum with them. Toronto downed the Flyers 3-2 last Thursday to close the gap on eighth spot.
But now, with the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres' come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win over the Boston Bruins signed and sealed on Thursday, Toronto (29-29-10) is six points back of a tie for eighth with only 14 games remaining, making the Leafs' contest against the Sabres on Saturday at the ACC (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET) even more crucial.
"We can’t control what they [the Sabres] do," said Joffrey Lupul, who had Toronto's other goal. "It just makes Saturday's game more important."
Toronto has only picked up one point in its last three games, which came in an OT loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday.
Giroux nets game-winner
Claude Giroux scored the game-winning goal in the second period for the Flyers (42-19-6) and added an assist, while Darroll Powe and Andrej Meszaros also scored.
Flyers backup Brian Boucher turned away 27 shots, while James Reimer made 30 stops in the Toronto net.
But Reimer would definitely like to have Powe's goal back.
With Philadelphia up 1-0 halfway through the second period and the play even at both ends, Powe snuck one through Reimer's legs behind the icing line on a centring pass.
"It's a tough play, but I have to find a way to keep it out of the net," he said.
Thursday's contest looked there for the taking for the Leafs, with top Philadelphia defenceman Chris Pronger out of the lineup due to a suspected hand injury and the Flyers coming into the game with a 1-3-0 record in their last four contests.
But any thought of a quick start evaporated when defenceman Mike Komisarek took a five-minute major and game misconduct for shoving Dan Carcillo into the boards from behind.
Carcillo down, not out
It happened just four minutes into the game and at a time when the NHL is under the microscope when it comes to dangerous hits, what with Zdeno Chara's check on Max Pacioretty still fresh in everyone's minds. Carcillo was down on the ice for a while but stayed in the game.
Philadelphia only managed one goal (Meszaros's marker), but the penalty still left the Leafs with only five defencemen for the rest of the game. They also lost a forward when Fredrik Sjostrom left halfway through the second period with an upper-body injury.
Leaf forward Grabovski used an unconventional method to make the score 2-1 in the second period, netting his 26th goal of the season when a Dion Phaneuf slap shot went off his visor and into the net at 11:23 of the frame. Boucher thought it hit a high stick and was frantically waving at the official to disallow the goal.
"I heard it hit something," he said. "I just assumed it was a high-stick."
The Flyers responded three minutes later, when Giroux made it 3-1 by depositing home a rebound off a van Riemsdyk slapper at 14:40.
Toronto's Colby Armstrong felt the effects of a hard James van Riemsdyk hit into the boards halfway into the first. He was on the ice for a few minutes before skating to the dressing room under his own power, and stayed in the game.
Next up for the Flyers is a date with Atlanta in Philadelphia on Saturday.
Giroux line proves a handful
Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette agreed the effort his players put forth at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday was one of the most complete games his team has played in a while.
The NHL Eastern Conference leaders halted a four-game losing streak with a win at home against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, but in Toronto they were without veteran defenceman Chris Pronger, who aggravated a hand injury in the game against the Oilers. Philadelphia was able to fend off a desperate Maple Leafs team with some sound defensively play, especially in the first half of the game.
Two areas that stood out for the Flyers was the play of the Claude Giroux-James van Riemsdyk-Jeff Carter line and netminder Brian Boucher. The Girioux unit was recently reunited after playing sporadically together throughout the season.
Van Riemsdyk set up Giroux for game-winner in the second period and the trio combined for 13 of the Flyers' 33 shots, including seven from Carter.
"We have some good chemistry, the three of us," Van Riemsdyk said.
"They're fast, smart and skilled," Lavoilette said of the line.
With a goal and assist on the Flyers first goal of the game, the 23-year-old Giroux of Hearst, Ont., now leads Philadelphia in scoring with 22 goals and 63 points. He also was involved late in the game in a scuffle with Toronto defenceman Carl Gunnarsson.
Boucher enjoyed a strong game with 27 saves. Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky still is Philadelphia's No. 1 goalie, but because Boucher can handle the puck so well, Laviolette often puts him in against speedy dump-and-chase teams like the Maple Leafs.
Boucher picked up his 16th win of the season, compared to Bobrovsky's 25.