Flyers no match for Leafs
Message to the rest of the NHL: don't expect the Toronto Maple Leafs to simply mail it in now that they've been eliminated from post-season contention.
The playoff-bound Philadelphia Flyers found that out the hard way Wednesday night in Toronto, dropping a 3-2 decision to a determined Leafs team in the opener of a home-and-away series between the clubs.
Veteran goalie Curtis Joseph was solid in making 32 saves and Lee Stempniak had a goal and an assist to propel the Leafs to victory.
While Philadelphia is headed to the playoffs and Toronto was mathematically eliminated the previous night, it was the Leafs who looked sharper and hungrier on Wednesday, running the sluggish Flyers ragged and out-hustling them for 60 minutes.
"I don't know about being a spoiler but there's a lot of pride in this room," said Joseph. "We've built a lot of chemistry over the year and I think it's showing here at the end of the year.
"We all get along well and we do a lot of fun things together. That's showing in our play."
"We wanted to play as if it was a playoff game and for the most part we did," said Leafs coach Ron Wilson.
After missing 25 of the past 27 games with a lingering hand injury, defenceman Tomas Kaberle was back on the ice for Toronto and logged more than 17 minutes of ice time.
Jamal Mayers opened the scoring at 1:59 of the first period, beating Flyers goalie Martin Biron with a wrist shot.
Aaron Asham responded for Philadelphia midway through the period to send the teams into the intermission tied 1-1.
The Leafs struck early in the second period when Stempniak scored on a backhander at 1:54 to restore Toronto's one-goal lead.
Ian White padded Toronto's advantage with his 10th goal of the season at 13:03, firing a wicked slapshot from the point past Biron.
That was enough for Flyers coach John Stevens to pull Biron in favour of backup netminder Antero Niittymaki.
Philadelphia winger Claude Giroux scored on the power play with 2:49 left in regulation to make it a one-goal game, but Joseph came up with a pair of big saves in the final minute to help Toronto hold on for the win.
"I felt I wasn't razor sharp but, fortunately, we battled away, I got good defensive play in front of me, and it worked out," said Joseph.
It was the third loss in four games for Philadelphia, which is battling the Carolina Hurricanes for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"The way we played, that's not a playoff team trying to win the Stanley Cup," said Flyers defenceman Kimmo Timonen. "Let's be honest, the next six games, it's playoff time for us.
"It's time to wake up and really really bear down. It's hard to say what the reason is (for lacklustre play) but, whatever it is, it has to change."
The Leafs and Flyers face off again Friday night in Philadelphia.
With files from Associated Press