TORONTO – The Philadelphia Flyers are fully aware of the wounded beast that awaits them Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre in the first of a home-and-home set with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“We know the Leafs are looking to win both games,” Flyers centre Daniel Briere told The Canadian Press on Monday. “The Leafs have been playing really well lately, we know that.
“It’s certainly not going to be easy.”
It may sound like a cliche, almost everything does at this time of year, but for the Leafs it’s really a must-win situation. Eight points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference held by the Flyers with four weeks to go in the regular season, Toronto really must beat Philadelphia in regulation time Tuesday and Wednesday to have any real hope of making the postseason.
“We need these points and that’s no secret,” Leafs forward Matt Stajan said Monday. “We know we have to do whatever we can to win both these games and if we do – we’ll be right back in a pretty good spot.
“So these are definitely big games for us.”
Leafs head coach Paul Maurice certainly hasn’t thrown in the towel.
“We get those games, we can tighten that gap, we got a fighting chance in the last three and a half weeks,” said Maurice.
But it’ll take more than two wins over the Flyers. The Leafs need to keep on winning and winning and winning. As in probably win 11 of their final 12 games.
A little daunting to say the least.
“I’m not very good at math so I just go game by game,” said Leafs netminder Vesa Toskala.
Hockey fans in Buffalo will be cheering on the Leafs. The ninth-ranked Sabres were four points behind the Flyers going into their Monday night game with the New York Rangers. Washington (72 points), Florida (72 points) and the New York Islanders (71 points) are also ahead of the 13th-ranked Leafs (70 points), which further complicates things for Toronto.
“I don’t think we like to look too far ahead,” said Leafs winger Jason Blake. “Right now, it starts tomorrow night.
“We’ll see what happens tomorrow night.”
The Leafs dropped two of three games last week despite playing reasonably well. But moral victories mean nothing at this point.
“It was a tough loss (2-1) on Saturday – in fact both games again New Jersey,” said Stajan, whose squad also dropped a 4-1 decision to the Devils last Tuesday. “But you got to respond.
“I think guys are looking forward to the challenge we have the next two nights.”
The Flyers want to solidify their playoff standing and they’ve got bigger things on their mind than eighth place in the conference.
“What we want to do is keep climbing up the standings,” said Briere. “We’re still holding on to eighth place but we’re still not in a comfort zone so it’s very important that we keep playing the same way we have been lately – no matter who the opponent is.”
Philadelphia appears to have rescued its season, snapping out of a 10-game winless streak (0-8-2) in February with a 5-1-1 stretch in their last seven games.
“It’s been a weird season for us and a lot of it has to do with learning about each other,” said Briere. “A lot of guys coming in from different organizations.
“We’ve taken some major steps (after being last overall last year). Confidence was a big issue during that 10-game stretch.
“Right now everybody is feeling a lot better about their game.”
The Flyers don’t have to worry about the rear-view mirror if they keep winning.
“We’re in eighth place and the nice thing is we’re in control of our destiny. That’s a good feeling,” said Briere.
A potentially potent combination for Philadelphia in the two-game set with Toronto is a special-teams matchup, the Flyers’ No. 2-ranked power play in the NHL against the Leafs’ 29th-ranked penalty killing unit.
“We have to play a mistake-free game,” said Blake. “We have to make sure we come out with energy and fire.”
After the two games with Philadelphia, the Leafs next host the Sabres on Saturday – another potentially huge game. Depending on how things go against the Flyers, however, Saturday’s game may only matter to Buffalo.