Leafs outlast Flyers, steal 3-2 win in Philly

Senior Hockey Insider — jboehmer@highhopesblog.com

The Flyers nearly tied the game in the third before Leaf's goaltender James Reimer snatched the falling puck. (Courtesy Philly.com)

The last time the Flyers lost back-to-back games in regulation – not counting a pair separated by a long break – was in mid-November. Here in March, they’ve lost their second in a row to a team outside the playoff picture.

Last night’s loss came courtesy of a tenacious Toronto team that’s recently caught the scent of a playoff position and wants to make it theirs.

The Flyers, on the other hand, sit pretty atop the Eastern Conference and may have to fall down a few notches before they remember what it’s like to have to win.

Chris Pronger thinks his team could learn something from these desperate teams.

“It’s probably good for us. Like I said, we have to match their desperation and intensity,” he said. “We haven’t done that yet, and until we do, we are going to wind up on the wrong end of the spectrum like we did today.”

After a strong shift gave Mike Richards the chance to set up Kris Versteeg for a goal against his former team – his first “real” goal as a Flyer (the first coming on an empty net).

Unfortunately, the Flyers started the next shift a bit too slow, and Scott Hartnell sent a blatant turnover right up the slot to Clarke MacArthur, whose shot was tipped by Nikolai Kulemin and past Sergei Bobrovsky.

Despite a strong start to the second period that included another goal by Kris Versteeg, the Flyers quickly fell victim to a hard forechecking Maple Leafs team. Flyers’ defenders turned pucks over, lost battles in the corners, and were generally outworked and outskated. And this forced them to take penalties, which gave Toronto even more energy and excitement.

Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette thought his team needed to play better defense in front of their goalie, but was also displeased with the consistency of the penalties being called.

“What seemed to be hooking, holding, and slashing in one end, we would like those calls down in the other,” he said. “We weren’t complaining about the ones we went to the box – there were certainly enough of them – but you know we’re trying to generate some offense too.”

A late period too many men penalty – which captain Mike Richards took the blame for – gave the Leafs an offensive zone faceoff that they took advantage of with a Dion Phaneuf goal to tie the game.

Instead of being ahead – though not necessarily in control – going into the third, the Flyers were back on their heels and struggling to regain the lead.

Toronto simply kept coming at them, capitalizing on another win in the corner. Darryl Boyce muscled Sean O’Donnell off the puck, stepped out front, and beat Bobrovsky for the go-ahead goal.

Despite the Flyers’ best efforts against goaltender James Reimer, they failed to beat him once again during a final minute surge and fell short for the 3-2 loss.

All night, the goaltenders stood on their heads. Reimer kept the Flyers off the board when he had to, gave his team a boost of momentum, and Bobrovsky simply tried to hold on in the face of a hard and fast Toronto offense.

In the end, though, it was the story of one defense over another. One kept chances to a minimum, the other took penalties and turned pucks over – guess which one is which.

Chemistry at work…

Probably the best news – and perhaps the only good news – to come out of the evening was Kris Versteeg’s growing chemistry with Mike Richards. It’s taken a few games, but Versteeg seems to be getting used to his new linemates and may catch some fire going down the stretch.

Versteeg said that these things take time. Richards agreed.

“We have played together for a little bit now,” the Flyers’ captain said. “Once you start doing that, you start to feel more comfortable and knowing where each other are. The two goals were evidence of that.”

Their coach sees it too – Laviolette said he thinks they’re “getting there” as they generate a lot of offensive opportunities together.

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