TORONTO – Dion Phaneuf admits he made a mistake.
The Toronto captain said Thursday he erred in not talking to reporters following the Maple Leafs’ 5-3 home loss Tuesday night to the St. Louis Blues. Phaneuf was widely criticized for blowing off the media following the club’s sixth straight loss that dropped it to 10th in the Eastern Conference standings.
“I should’ve been available, that’s about all I’m going to say about it,” the veteran defenceman said following Thursday’s practice. “I can’t remember the last time I didn’t make myself available but I should’ve been available.”
On Wednesday, a day off for the Leafs, Phaneuf told a Toronto all-sports radio station he didn’t talk because he was too emotional following the loss.
“I just didn’t play well enough,” he said. “Bottom line, I wasn’t even close to the level I have to play at.
“I accept responsibility for that. I will be better.”
Phaneuf and his teammates don’t have time to fret about their respective situations. Toronto visits the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night in one of just eight regular-season games remaining for the Leafs.
The contest is important for both teams. Philadelphia (38-37-7, 83 points) is sixth in the Eastern Conference heading into action Thursday night. Toronto (36-30-8, 80 points) is tied in points with Columbus, Detroit and Washington, but all three clubs having games in hand on the Leafs.
With each mounting loss, the Leafs find themselves increasingly under the media microscope in Toronto. There was no shortage of TV cameras and media at Thursday’s practice.
“If you look back two weeks ago we weren’t having to answer these questions, but the reality is we’re where we’re at right now,” Phaneuf said. “We haven’t won in six games and when you don’t win hockey games there are questions asked and there’s every right to ask those questions because it’s our job to win games.
“I’m not going to stand here and say we’ve played well, we haven’t. I know right now it seems we’re at a low point but we’ll come through it.”
And for head coach Randy Carlyle, the turnaround won’t come about by continually harping on how tight the Leafs have played during the streak.
“The more you talk about it, the more you focus on the tightness the harder it is to flush,” he said. “We have to be prepared to look at the positives that are in the hockey game, the things we’ve done well and not focus on the negatives.
“Pressure comes from within, comes from outside, it comes from everywhere. I think the amount of pressure you put on yourself to perform is really and truly who you have to answer to.”
But Carlyle didn’t sugar-coat Toronto’s current situation, either.
“We feel there’s a lot of areas in which there are some positives but you can’t look past we’ve lost six in a row,” he said. “Bottom line, there’s no other way to say it.
“We can’t feel good about ourselves but we have to prepare ourselves to play the best game of the year (Friday).”
Toronto could have defenceman Paul Ranger back Friday. Ranger left a 5-3 home loss to Tampa Bay on March 19 on a stretcher with a neck brace after being hit by Lightning forward Alex Killorn.
“I feel pretty good but I’ve got to talk to the trainers and doctors and see if they can clear me to play,” Ranger said. “I think it’s just a combined decision (Friday).
“If I can help in any way I’m going to and I plan on it. I had some encouraging words from teammates and trainers saying, ‘We could use you back.’ It felt pretty good. I’m excited to get back into a game and contribute as much as I can.”
Carlyle would consider playing Ranger in Philadelphia if the defenceman was cleared medically.
“He looked good (Thursday),” Carlyle said. “As soon as the player tells us, then we have an option.”
Toronto has been plagued by poor starts over its losing streak, something Carlyle says gives the opposition an advantage.
“It seems like we’re chasing the game and when you chase the game you have to open up and that gives the team you’re playing against more opportunities,” he said. “It’s tough enough when you’re on an even keel . . . especially at this time of year.
“The bottom line is we have to find a way to start better and continue it.”
Forward Phil Kessel agreed.
“It helps to get the first goal,” he said. “You’re up one instead of being down one or down two.
“It’s tough to come back in this league.”
Given the intense media glare in Toronto, forward Nazem Kadri said it’s hard for the Leafs not to feel pressure to win.
“When you drop six straight it’s definitely hard to focus on other things,” he said. “We’ve had some meetings and understand this is desperation time.
“We have to play for our lives so we have to go start acting like it.”
Defenceman Cody Franson said the Leafs’ psyche remains solid.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” he said. “Obviously we’ve been through a tough stretch here but . . . we’re very aware of our situation and we all want to do the right things to get this back on the right foot.
“We’re aware of what we have to do. We don’t feel sorry for ourselves, we’ve played well in a lot of games and done a lot of good things and we’re going to build on that.”
Toronto returns to the Air Canada Centre on Saturday versus Detroit, the first of four straight home games. After facing Calgary (Tuesday), Boston (Thursday) and Winnipeg (April 5), the Leafs will end the regular season with road games against Tampa, Florida and Ottawa.
“It’s not like we’re out of a playoff position,” defenceman Jake Gardiner said. “We’re in a decent spot, we can still compete for those last two spots and just see what happens.
“Yeah, there’s always that pressure . . . but we know we have a good team in here and we know we can do it. It’s just a matter of playing the way we know we can.”