By Kate Hedlin
Philadelphia (41-24-10) at Toronto (31-32-13), 7:30 p.m. EDT
TORONTO (AP) — Trying to hang on to their slim lead in the race
for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the
Philadelphia Flyers will be looking to take advantage of a
relatively soft schedule to close the season.
The Flyers play a home-and-home series against the Toronto Maple
Leafs to start that seven-game stretch, beginning Wednesday
night at Air Canada Centre.
Philadelphia (41-24-10) has a one-point lead over Carolina,
winner of six straight, for the fourth seed in the Eastern
Conference. The Flyers play four of their remaining games
against lesser teams, with Ottawa and the NHL-worst New York
Islanders joining the Leafs (31-32-13) as opponents Philadelphia
should be able to pick up points against.
The Flyers, though, are looking to end a minor slump, as they
fell 4-3 to Boston on Sunday for their second loss in three
Antero Niittymaki, making his first start in seven games,
allowed three first-period goals. Philadelphia pulled within a
goal twice but couldn’t get the equalizer despite outshooting
the Bruins 32-16 over the final two periods.
The Flyers had to rally to beat the NHL-worst Islanders the
night before, as they scored three times in the third period and
went on to a 4-3 shootout win. Philadelphia has been outscored
5-1 in the first period of its last three games.
“We’ve played catch-up two nights in a row,” coach John Stevens
told the Flyers’ official Web site. “It caught up with us
Philadelphia and Toronto have split their last six meetings
after the Maple Leafs won the previous six. The Flyers have lost
in their last two visits to Toronto, the most recent a 4-2
defeat Nov. 29.
Forward Mike Richards, who ended a four-game point drought with
a goal Sunday, has three goals in the two games against the
Maple Leafs this season. He’s scored four goals in his last four
road games versus Toronto.
The Maple Leafs have dropped two straight, falling 7-5 to the
Bruins on Saturday. Justin Pogge started in net after relieving
Curtis Joseph in a 5-3 loss to Buffalo the night before, but he
lasted only 32:44, giving up six goals on 20 shots before Joseph
Alexei Ponikarovsky scored his second goal of the game 6:06 into
the second period to give Toronto a 4-3 lead, but Boston
responded with four unanswered goals to end the period.
“It was a tough loss, giving up seven goals is never fun,” left
wing Niklas Hagman said. “We made it tough on our goalies.”
The Maple Leafs scored 29 goals in their last seven games, but
gave up 28.
Toronto is on the verge of being eliminated from postseason
contention. In 12th place with 75 points, the Maple Leafs trail
eighth-place Montreal by double digits with six games remaining.
Toronto, which won 36 games last season, last made the
postseason in 2004.
“At the beginning of the year (the goal was) to assess our
talent and move forward,” first-year coach Ron Wilson said. “My
main assignment was to make everybody better and I think in a
lot of cases we succeeded.”
Ponikarovsky has four goals and five assists during a five-game