TORONTO – National team graduates Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Steve Downie watched Canada win a fourth straight world junior championship, and then they each scored a goal as the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2.
Richards was in his room at the team’s hotel when Sweden rallied from a two-goal deficit to force overtime in the Czech Republic late Saturday afternoon, and it was time to get to Air Canada Centre for his NHL game.
“I ran to the arena during the intermission and when we got into the dressing room everyone huddled around the TV,” said Richards, who along with Carter won world junior silver in 2004 and gold in 2005.
“It was nice to see them pull it out,” Richards said of Canada’s 3-2 victory. “They deserved it”.
“It was pretty impressive the way they hung in there. Being a part of that a couple of years ago, I still get chills when I see a Canadian team hoist a cup at an international event.” The scenario was remarkably similar to the Flyers-Tor game. Philadelphia led 2-0, but the Leafs fought back to tie it and the Flyers won it on a power play on Richards’ 19th goal with 2:51 left.
Antero Niittymaki produced a magical 54-save goaltending performance.
“He pretty much won that game for us,” said Richards.
Mats Sundin scored both goals for Toronto, which lost despite a 56-32 shots advantage.
“We played a good game, but it’s like we don’t know how to win the close games,” said Sundin. “We have to become smarter and learn what it takes to win.” All three goals on Andrew Raycroft were on rebounds.
“You have to stay positive, but it’s frustrating,” he said. “It’s a frustrating loss.” Seven of the Flyers and six of the Leafs in the game skated for Canada at world junior tournaments.
“It’s great that they won another gold and kept the streak going,” said Carter.
The first-period casualty list was three-layers long: Toronto lost Carlo Colaiacovo when the hard-luck defenceman reinjured his right knee; Philadelphia forward Joffrey Lupul was too woozy to continue after being clobbered in a collision with teammate Derian Hatcher; and Flyers forward Sami Kapanen didn’t return after a heavy stitching job on a puck cut over his upper lip.
“Hopefully I’ll feel fine in the morning,” Lupul said afterwards. “I’ve got a big bruise and a little cut on my head but, other than that, I don’t feel all that bad”.
“I’ll be re-evaluated (Sunday), but I feel a lot better now than when I was leaving the ice.” The Flyers upped their points total to 44 in winning for the fourth time in five games.
“It was a gutsy win,” said Carter. “We lost a couple of guys early and were down, basically, to 2 1-2 lines”.
“We pulled out the win. These points against conference teams are going to be huge because (the standings) are so tight.” Toronto, 1-4-1 since goaltender Vesa Toskala went down with a groin injury, remained 13th in the Eastern Conference with 40 points after the 42nd game of its 82-game schedule.
“In the first half of the season we made a lot of mistakes,” said Sundin. “We’re good enough to be a playoff team . . . but we’re shooting ourselves in the foot on a lot of nights.”
The notorious Downie, who was suspended for 20 games after a pre-season hit on Dean McAmmond in Ottawa, was skating in is second NHL game since being recalled from the AHL farm on Wednesday and his fourth overall.
The 20-year-old native of nearby Newmarket, Ont., outmanoeuvred Colaiacovo for position and slammed a rebound past Raycroft at 10:04 for his first NHL goal. Downie won world junior gold with the 2006 and 2007 teams.
Carter converted a two-on-one break into a short-handed goal – on another rebound – at 16:28 for his 14th of the season. The native of London, Ont., turned 23 on New Year’s Day.
Niittymaki made 36 saves before the second intermission.
“Niitty stood on his head,” said Carter. “He played a hell of a game.” The Finn was partially screened when Sundin slapped in a drive from the top of the circle to Niittymaki’s right at 4:09 of the third period during a power play.
The Leafs’ captain got his 20th off a rebound at 11:48 of the third.
“We were on our heels,” said Richards.
He got the winner at 17:09, while Ian White sat in the penalty box for holding.
“Mike Knuble shot it and it went off Raycroft,” said Richards, 22, from Kenora, Ont. “Then it deflected off (Tomas) Kaberle’s skate and ended up on my stick”.
“It was hard to miss (scoring) that one.” Raycroft remained winless since Nov. 9 “We let it slip through our fingers,” he said.
Meanwhile, the 542nd and 543rd goals of Sundin’s career moved him past Stan Mikita into sole possession of 25th place on the regular-season goals list. One more and he’ll tie Maurice (Rocket) Richard.
It’s the 17th consecutive season Sundin has scored at least 20 goals. Gordie Howe had 22 and Brendan Shanahan is working on his 19th. Marcel Dionne and Brett Hull did it 17 times, and now Sundin has, too.
A weak power play once again hurt the Leafs’ chances. They had six manpower advantages, compared to only two for the Flyers, but they managed only Sundin’s power-play goal.
“Our penalty killing was great,” said Richards. “There were a lot of blocked shots and we kept them to the outside. But Niitty won us that game.”
Notes: Colaiacovo was appearing in his fifth game after taking months to get over head and knee injuries. The extent of the new damage will be revealed Sunday . . . C Nikolai Antropov hasn’t scored in 11 games . . . Besides Toskala, Toronto was without D Bryan McCabe (broken hand) and C Mark Bell (cracked orbital bone). F Kyle Wellwood returned after being a healthy scratch for two games. RW Wade Belak also was a healthy scratch as was D Andy Wozniewski, whose place was taken by D Anton Stralman . . . Philadelphia was without D Jason Smith (bruised calf), LW Scottie Upshall (ankle) and C Simon Gagne (concussion). Gagne hasn’t played since Nov. 7 . . . Toronto is 13-11-4 with Toskala in goal, and 3-7-4 without him . . . The Leafs, embarking on their first road trip to California since November 2003, play in Anaheim on Wednesday, in Los Angeles on Thursday and in San Jose on Saturday . . . Toronto doesn’t hold the rights to any of the players on Canada’s victorious world junior team