TORONTO – At a time when questionable hits have dominated discussion around the NHL, Mike Komisarek put the Toronto Maple Leafs behind the eight-ball with one of his own.
The defenceman was ejected early in Thursday’s game for shoving Philadelphia’s Daniel Carcillo into the boards from behind and the Maple Leafs never totally recovered. The Flyers scored on the ensuing power play and led the rest of the evening during a 3-2 victory.
Even though Komisarek’s hit wasn’t as egrigeous as others that have drawn headlines recently, the Maple Leafs thought referees Mike Leggo and Brian Pochmara made the correct call on the play.
“It’s a five-minute major—he cross-checked him in the lower back from behind in a vulnerable position,” said coach Ron Wilson. “Whether the guy’s acting or not, he did kind of a wishbone into the boards. We would expect the same thing in return.”
Carcillo briefly went to the visiting dressing room for some treatment before returning to the bench. He would have preferred Komisarek wasn’t thrown out of the game.
“I kind of would have liked to see him stay on the ice, to do something about it,” said Carcillo. “But I’ll have to wait until next year.”
With a third loss in as many games, the Maple Leafs are in danger of having to wait until next year for another crack at the playoffs. They’re now six points behind the Rangers and Buffalo—4-3 overtime winners in Boston—heading into a pivotal Saturday night matchup with the Sabres at Air Canada Centre.
The players are trying to hold out hope.
“I guess this just makes Saturday’s game all the more important,” said forward Joffrey Lupul. “There’s a lot of games left but this is basically as close to a must win as you can get.”
The conference-leading Flyers managed to play a tight-checking game despite missing top defenceman Chris Pronger to an upper-body injury.
Andrej Meszaros, Darroll Powe and Claude Giroux scored for Philadelphia (42-19-6), which won back-to-back games for the first time in three weeks.
“The last month, we haven’t been playing the way we should,” said Giroux. “I think tonight we played a 60-minute game and guys were playing together and the puck was moving and we had fun doing it.”
Mikhail Grabovski and Lupul replied for the Maple Leafs (29-29-10).
Toronto found itself playing from behind all evening. Not only was Komisarek’s ejection costly because it allowed Meszaros to open the scoring, but it also forced Wilson to rely more heavily on his other blue-liners.
“Well you’re down to five (defencemen) with 56 minutes left out of 60,” said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, who played a game-high 29:35. “It’s not good when you lose a d-man that early. It’s part of the game and I though we adapted OK.”
James Reimer finished with 30 saves but was left kicking himself for Philadelphia’s second goal. He was trying to get up off the ice when Powe swept a shot from an awkward angle through his legs at 9:36 of the second period.
“We lost by one goal,” said Reimer. “If I don’t make that mistake we’re in overtime.”
Grabovski gave Toronto a brief shot of life with the most painful of his 26 goals this season. He was standing at the side of the goal when Phaneuf’s point shot riccocheted off his visor and past Brian Boucher at 11:13.
“Thank God he’s wearing a shield, which everybody should be wearing for that very reason right there,” said Wilson. “He’d have gotten the puck right in the forehead.”
It was the Leafs’ first power-play goal in six games.
The team pushed hard for the tying goal immediately after that—Boucher robbed Colby Armstrong with his glove—until Giroux put the Flyers ahead 3-1 at 14:40. He went to the centre of the ice just as the puck arrived on his stick and beat Reimer.
Energy line player Mike Brown was an unlikely catalyst for Toronto in the third period, turning defenceman Sean O’Donnell inside-out before setting up Lupul’s goal at 7:56. But the team was unable to get another puck past Boucher.
“We played hard, but we didn’t play hard enough,” said Phaneuf. “It’s a disappointing loss, that’s for sure.”
Notes: Since dealing Kris Versteeg to the Flyers on Feb. 14, Toronto has gone 6-2-4 … Jay Rosehill and Jonas Gustavsson were healthy scratches for Toronto … Andreas Nodl and Nikolay Zherdev also sat out for the Flyers … Announced attendance was 19,475.