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Flyers looking to finish strong vs. Maple Leafs

By Kate Hedlin

Stats Writer

Philadelphia (41-24-10) at Toronto (31-32-13), 7:30 p.m. EDT

TORONTO (AP) -- Trying to hang on to their slim lead in the race

for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the

Philadelphia Flyers will be looking to take advantage of a

relatively soft schedule to close the season.

The Flyers play a home-and-home series against the Toronto Maple

Leafs to start that seven-game stretch, beginning Wednesday

night at Air Canada Centre.

Philadelphia (41-24-10) has a one-point lead over Carolina,

winner of six straight, for the fourth seed in the Eastern

Conference. The Flyers play four of their remaining games

against lesser teams, with Ottawa and the NHL-worst New York

Islanders joining the Leafs (31-32-13) as opponents Philadelphia

should be able to pick up points against.

The Flyers, though, are looking to end a minor slump, as they

fell 4-3 to Boston on Sunday for their second loss in three


Antero Niittymaki, making his first start in seven games,

allowed three first-period goals. Philadelphia pulled within a

goal twice but couldn't get the equalizer despite outshooting

the Bruins 32-16 over the final two periods.

The Flyers had to rally to beat the NHL-worst Islanders the

night before, as they scored three times in the third period and

went on to a 4-3 shootout win. Philadelphia has been outscored

5-1 in the first period of its last three games.

"We've played catch-up two nights in a row," coach John Stevens

told the Flyers' official Web site. "It caught up with us


Philadelphia and Toronto have split their last six meetings

after the Maple Leafs won the previous six. The Flyers have lost

in their last two visits to Toronto, the most recent a 4-2

defeat Nov. 29.

Forward Mike Richards, who ended a four-game point drought with

a goal Sunday, has three goals in the two games against the

Maple Leafs this season. He's scored four goals in his last four

road games versus Toronto.

The Maple Leafs have dropped two straight, falling 7-5 to the

Bruins on Saturday. Justin Pogge started in net after relieving

Curtis Joseph in a 5-3 loss to Buffalo the night before, but he

lasted only 32:44, giving up six goals on 20 shots before Joseph

came in.

Alexei Ponikarovsky scored his second goal of the game 6:06 into

the second period to give Toronto a 4-3 lead, but Boston

responded with four unanswered goals to end the period.

"It was a tough loss, giving up seven goals is never fun," left

wing Niklas Hagman said. "We made it tough on our goalies."

The Maple Leafs scored 29 goals in their last seven games, but

gave up 28.

Toronto is on the verge of being eliminated from postseason

contention. In 12th place with 75 points, the Maple Leafs trail

eighth-place Montreal by double digits with six games remaining.

Toronto, which won 36 games last season, last made the

postseason in 2004.

"At the beginning of the year (the goal was) to assess our

talent and move forward," first-year coach Ron Wilson said. "My

main assignment was to make everybody better and I think in a

lot of cases we succeeded."

Ponikarovsky has four goals and five assists during a five-game

point streak.


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