Two points were there for the taking and the Toronto Maple Leafs found a way to grab them while the Philadelphia Flyers were left wondering what went wrong. Andrew Raycroft made 40 saves in goal and Nik Antropov scored the winner in the third period as the Maple Leafs skated to a 4-1 victory over the struggling Flyers.
Don’t let the final score fool you – it very easily could have gone either way.
“It’s a good sign for us to get a win like that,” said Raycroft. “We were able to gut it out tonight.”
Bates Battaglia, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Tomas Kaberle, into an empty net, also had goals for Toronto (9-5-3). The Leafs have won five of their last six games.
Ben Eager replied for the fragile Flyers (3-10-1), who are dead last in the NHL with just seven points.
“(Our confidence) isn’t very good, obviously,” said Flyers coach John Stevens. “We’re having trouble scoring goals. Nothing against Ben Eager, but when he’s your only goal-scorer, there’s a concern.”
It was the tremendous play of Raycroft that helped seal this one for Toronto. Coach Paul Maurice pronounced it his goalie’s best game in a Maple Leaf uniform and it couldn’t have come at a better time – Toronto’s next game is Thursday night in Boston when Raycroft will face the team that essentially gave up on him last season.
Despite that, he was confident that he could blossom after being dealt to the Leafs at the draft last June.
“I didn’t play good last year and (when) you don’t play good, they find other options,” said Raycroft. “At the end of it all I knew I wasn’t going to let that happen again.
“I knew coming into this year that it was going to be a lot different.”
There’s no way the Flyers could have expected this poor of a start to their season.
Philadelphia, which is 2-4-0 since Stevens took over the coaching reins, has the league’s worst power play. They were 0-for-7 on Monday against Toronto in a game that was tied 1-1 until Antropov scored the winner with less than 13 minutes to play.
“That’s the way it’s been the last five or six games,” said Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki. “We play great, but we can’t score goals. The other team gets one or two chances, and they score every time.”
Antropov had a particularly strong game for the Maple Leafs. He used his size early in the game by throwing hits on the forecheck, which is something the big Kazakh has often seemed reluctant to do during his seven seasons in Toronto.
It earned him a spot in the top line along captain Mats Sundin and Ponikarovsky in the third period. He rewarded Maurice’s decision by scoring the winner off a scramble in front of Niittymaki.
“I have to use my size to my advantage,” said Antropov. “I’m going to use it more often.”
Toronto entered the game off a big victory in Buffalo on Saturday night and looked it was going to make this one a rout early.
Battaglia opened the scoring 5:25 into the game when he came out from behind the net, spun away from defender Derian Hatcher and beat Niittymaki with a wrist shot. That dropped Hatcher to a league-worst minus-16 and he would extend that to minus-17 before the night was over.
Philadelphia then took four straight penalties and spent almost the entire second half of the period in its own zone. The Leafs were all over the Flyers but couldn’t get a puck by Niittymaki, whose best save came when he stretched back to rob Sundin of a sure goal with his pad.
They were extremely fortunate to escape the period trailing by just one goal and made up for it by coming out flying in the second.
“I thought we worked hard,” said Flyers captain Peter Forsberg. “Overall I
thought we battled really hard.”
Eager tied the game 1-1 at 2:32 of the second after taking a nice pass from winger Eric Meloche and beating Raycroft on his blocker side. It was the first goal of the season for the 22-year-old Ottawa native and the fourth of his career.
Soon after, the Flyers were given a 5-on-3 for one minute but were shutdown by Leafs forward Michael Peca, who seems to relish those situations. It turned out to be an important penalty kill for Toronto, which has allowed just one goal this season while being two men down.
“We made it tough on ourselves,” Peca said afterward. “But we found a way to get the goals we needed (in the third period).”
Notes: Attendance was 19,501 . . . Don Cherry must have had a loaner – John McDermott sang the national anthems wearing a sports coat that was made of several different shades of plaid . . . Leafs forward Kyle Wellwood was given the Molson Cup Award before the game for having the team’s most three-star selections in October . . . The Flyers have allowed 57 goals this season and scored just 29.