Tonight's matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs (29-22-14, 4th place in the Atlantic Division) and the Philadelphia Flyers (31-26-8, 6th place in the Metropolitan Division) held significant playoff implications. Leafs starting goalie Frederik Andersen (25-14-0 with a 2.72 GAA) and Flyers’ Michal Neuvirth (10-9-0 with a 2.90 GAA) were both poised to elevate their respective teams back into playoff contention.
First Period Action
Prior to the game, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock was asked what concerned him most about tonight's opponent. He said, "I don't like to be on the penalty kill against them. I think their power-play is good."
At 5:30 of the first period, the Leafs right-winger Mitch Marner took a two-minute penalty for tripping Flyers defenseman Michael Del Zotto, and as almost foreshadowed by Babcock Wayne Simmonds, the Scarborough Ontario. native, scored his 28th goal of the season (14th power-play goal of the season) on a deflection assisted by Shayne Ghostisbehere and Claude Giroux. Simmonds goal marked his 7th goal against Andersen in his last 6 games.
Simmonds, this year's MVP of the NHL All-Star game, has 73 power-play goals since 2011 trailing only Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.
Philadelphia controlled most of the first period, but with Flyers defenseman Radki Gudas serving a two-minute interference penalty on Zach Hyman, forward William Nylander scored his 16th goal of the season assisted by defenseman Jake Gardiner and right-winger Connor Brown to tie the game at 1-1. Nylander is now second in power-play points among NHL rookies with 21 points.
After 20 minutes of play which featured some chippy action and a shaky performance by Neuvirth at times, the teams remained deadlocked on the scoreboard at one apiece.
Maple Leafs Slowly Gaining Momentum
Toronto came on stronger in the middle frame, generating more scoring chances and offensive zone pressure. At 9:28, the Leafs grabbed the lead after a spectacular save by Andersen, Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak wheeled through the slot and scored an unassisted goal, his 16th, to give them a 2-1 lead.
After 40 minutes of play which featured some solid two-way action, the Leafs entered the second intermission up by one.
In the third period, the Leafs had the bulk of the scoring chances but Neuvirth held the Flyers close with some great saves but they couldn’t generate any sustained pressure in the offensive zone.
Maple Leafs Runaway With the Game
The Leafs kept pushing with a 2-1 lead, led by the trio of Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov and Connor Brown.
With just 6:16 left in the third period regulation Marner notched his 16th goal of the season to put the Leafs ahead 3-1. With that point, Marner extended his point scoring streak to 4 games.
Ghostisbehere scored his 6th of the year at 17:32 of the third to cut the lead to 3-2, but he later lost control of the puck allowing Kadri to score his 28th goal of the season into an empty goal.
The Leafs have dropped an NHL-leading 10 games when leading after two periods. This time, Andersen who stepped up big, making 36 saves including 19 in the third period alone, preserved the 4-2 victory over Philadelphia despite the Flyers putting together a big push down the stretch.
"We know what we had to do - we came out and did it so it's a good feeling," said defenseman Morgan Rielly.
"It's frustrating," said Flyers captain Giroux. "It wasn't our best game. But we did a lot of good things, just got to be better."
With the win, Toronto won the season series 2-1 but more importantly regained the final wild card playoff spot while dealing the Flyers a blow to their playoff hopes.