TORONTO – Curtis Joseph crouched in anticipation of the shot, made the save with 16 seconds remaining, and Jeff Carter threw his head back in disbelief as he sat on the ice in frustration.
“That’s nice,” the sweat-soaked Joseph said afterwards when he was reminded of the image. “He’s a good player. “I’m going to watch that replay.”
Work ethic trumps talent in sports sometimes and the Toronto Maple Leafs, getting solid goaltending from Joseph, provided the latest example at the expense of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Jamal Mayers, Lee Stempniak and Ian White scored for the Leafs, who were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention the previous night but who were better than the East’s fourth-best team in earning the 3-2 victory Wednesday.
“I don’t know about being a spoiler but there’s a lot of pride in this room,” said Joseph. “We’ve built a lot of chemistry over the year and I think it’s showing here at the end of the year.
“We all get along well and we do a lot of fun things together. That’s showing in our play.”
Other than Carter’s shot and a few others in the third period, Joseph had an easy night.
“I felt I wasn’t razor sharp but, fortunately, we battled away, I got good defensive play in front of me, and it worked out,” said Joseph.
It was just his 10th start of the season. He turns 42 on April 29 but he says he wants to play again next season – with the Leafs, preferably.
“The last four or five years I’ve really appreciated playing,” he said. “I’d like to keep playing.
“As long as I’m healthy and contributing then I want to continue, for sure.”
The Leafs keep drawing capacity crowds to Air Canada Centre – 19,340 this time – because they work their behinds off no matter where they are in the standings.
“We wanted to play as if it was a playoff game and for the most part we did,” said coach Ron Wilson.
Arron Asham and Claude Giroux scored for the playoff-bound Flyers, who had more talent on paper but who were outworked all night.
“The way we played, that’s not a playoff team trying to win the Stanley Cup,” said defenceman Kimmo Timonen. “Let’s be honest, the next six games, it’s playoff time for us.
“It’s time to wake up and really really bear down. It’s hard to say what the reason is (for lacklustre play) but, whatever it is, it has to change.”
Mayers and Asham exchanged goals in an evenly played opening period.
The Leafs regained the lead 1:54 into the second period. Martin Biron kicked out his left leg to stop a long Jeff Finger shot and was sitting in his crease when Stempniak whacked in the rebound.
The Flyers were sluggish and with eight minutes left in the second they iced the puck to relieve the pressure. Coach John Stevens called a 30-second timeout. Whatever he said at the bench had no effect.
White made it 3-1 at 13:03 with a blue-line blast that went over a kneeling Biron’s left shoulder and into the net. He might have stopped the shot had he stayed on his feet. Stevens pulled Biron and sent in Antero Niittymaki. Shots were 28-18 in Toronto’s favour at the time.
“Playing with a two-goal lead is always nice,” said Joseph. “We played with the lead and we played well with it.”
With Stempniak penalized for holding a stick, Giroux smacked in a rebound on the power play at 17:09 of the third.
The Flyers went with an extra attacker for the last 90 seconds. Finger missed the open net with 40 seconds left.
Philadelphia had a late chance with a faceoff in Toronto’s end with 25 seconds left. Carter got off his shot and Joseph went down to stop it.
Mikhail Grabovski beat Danny Briere on the next faceoff and it was over.
“(Joseph) didn’t have to make, to be honest, very many difficult saves until the last 10 minutes,” said Wilson. “We did a good job of keeping (Flyers shooters) to the outside.”
April Fool’s Day hadn’t been going well for the Leafs.
General manager Brian Burke spent all day telling the media that failing to make the playoffs was a badge of failure and that he was “really bitter and sour” about being excluded from the chase for the Stanley Cup.
The NHL fined the Leafs US$500,000 and stripped them of a fourth-round draft pick for a collective bargaining agreement violation in how they handled the signing of Swedish defenceman Jonas Frogren last year. Cliff Fletcher was in charge at the time. Burke issued an apology “for the error of judgment.”
This win helped ease the day’s mountain of pain.
It was Philadelphia’s third loss in four games. Home-ice advantage when the playoffs begin in two weeks is at stake for the Flyers as they prepare to play the Leafs again on Friday in Philadelphia.
“Maybe we were looking too far ahead, focusing on the outcome and not the process,” Stevens said of this one. “Sometimes you have to stumble a bit to find that focus and effort.”
Added captain Mike Richards: “We’re starting slow and giving up early leads. I’s disappointing. We knew they’d come out hard. They play well at home.”
Notes: Final shots were 38-34 . . . On power plays, Toronto was 0-for-4 and Philadelphia was 1-for-4 . . . Next Leafs home game is Saturday against Montreal . . . Burke: “If our goaltending had been more solid, we would be in the playoffs.” . . . D Tomas Kaberle returned to Toronto’s lineup after missing the last 12 games and 25 of the last 27 with hand injuries . . . Of the 18 Philadelphia skaters, six were from Ontario: Mike Richards of Kenora, Jeff Carter of London, Dan Carcillo of King City, Mike Knuble of Toronto, Claude Giroux of Hearst and Darroll Powe of Kanata . . . The Flyers announced the signing of left-winger James van Riemsdyk to a multiyear entry-level contract and assigned him their Philadelphia AHL farm team. The 19-year-old American, who was the second overall draft pick in 2007, recently completed his sophomore season at the University of New Hampshire.