PHILADELPHIA – Despite a poorly timed losing streak, Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle still believes Toronto can turn its season around before it’s too late.
The Leafs dropped a 4-2 decision on Friday to the Philadelphia Flyers, their seventh straight loss, and remain outside of a post-season berth.
Carlyle, however, said that his team just needs to clean up the little things and they should be fine with seven games remaining in the regular season.
“They’ve proven to us before that they can play the game at a high level,” said Carlyle. “If we can tidy up the turnover situation…we got to win more one-on-one battles for the puck. Those are the things at this juncture in the season that’s imperative, that we win those battles. And right now we’re not winning enough.”
Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk, who scored his 29th goal of the season on Friday, agreed with his coach.
“I think our work ethic has been good, we haven’t quit,” said van Riemsdyk. “We’ve played hard to the end, sometimes we’re just not getting the bounces.”
Vinny Lecavalier, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds scored for the Flyers, while goaltender Steve Mason stopped 32 shots for the win.
David Bolland also scored for the Leafs and Jonathan Bernier made 25 saves in defeat.
Lecavalier opened the scoring for Philadelphia 5:35 into the first period as Toronto tried to kill off 1:36 of a 5-on-3 power play.
Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf was forced to take the face-off after centre Jay McClement was tossed from the draw. After Phaneuf lost the faceoff to Giroux, Lecavalier one timed the puck past Bernier after being set up by defenceman Kimmo Timonen.
“They score a five-on-three goal, our centre gets kicked out, I don’t know if we could have covered it differently,” said Carlyle.
Van Riemsdyk responded for Toronto just four seconds into the second period, tying the NHL record for the fastest goal to start a period.
After centre Tyler Bozak won the draw forward, van Riemsdyk skated ahead and put the puck past Mason to even the score.
“Bozie made the play pretty much, he decided he was going to push it ahead,” said van Riemsdyk. “He made a great play and I just fired it on net.”
“It was a big spark,” Carlyle said of the goal. “We had a lot of momentum for our hockey club but we just weren’t able to carry it through.”
Hartnell killed any Toronto momentum when he gave Philadelphia the lead back at 11:03 of the second after a backhand tip on a shot from Timonen.
Giroux made it 3-1 at 4:55 of the third period when he fired a slapper from the circle over Bernier’s right shoulder.
Bolland brought the Leafs within a goal at 6:18. Simmonds, however, put the game out of reach at 12:39.
“I look at it as we came here to work, we worked hard,” said Carlyle. “Were we smart enough in some areas? No. But we gave ourselves a chance.”
Toronto is in a four-way tie for the two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference, but sit outside a post-season position because of playing more games than any of the other three clubs. One of those teams is the Detroit Red Wings, who the Leafs will face on Saturday.
Carlyle knows a win over the Red Wings is as big as it gets.
“We have an opportunity tomorrow night, its the biggest game of the year.”