Leafs leery of tangling with Flyers

Feb 15, 2007 04:30 AM
Kevin McGran
SPORTS REPORTER

Having coached some bad hockey teams in Hartford and Carolina, Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice has seen this before: A team in the playoff hunt faces one that has no hope. And the one that has no hope just loves to make the other team feel its pain.

“You like to inflict a little misery when you’re having so much of your own,” Maurice said yesterday after practice. “When you’re in that spot, you’re out of it and it’s clear you’re out of it.

“When you haven’t had a good year and you haven’t had any fun, I did find the energy level went up when you’re playing a good team and it mattered to them. There might as well be two teams in a bad mood after the game.”

That’s the scenario facing the Leafs tonight as they head into Philadelphia, but while the Flyers may be sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference, they are anything but a sitting duck.

The Flyers are relatively healthy and – freed from the burdens of trying to make the playoffs – are starting to win again. They are 4-2-4 in their last 10 games and that worries Maurice.

“This is not the same team that suffered through injuries,” said Maurice. “Any lineup with (Peter) Forsberg and (Simon) Gagne is a pretty good hockey club. We’re not facing the worst team in the East, we’re facing a team that’s on a roll.

“They’ve been able to get points in just about every game lately,” said Maurice. “They’ve been through their mourning period. Their season is dead. They know it and now the pressure is actually off them.

“They’re not answering questions now about what happened. They’re answering (questions about) next year. They’re not under the weight of their record any more.”

The Leafs, meanwhile, are starting to wonder what if? And worry about opportunities lost. Their five-game win streak has been followed by a three-game losing streak. Two of those losses were in extra time, garnering the team a couple of points.

But the club has shown a frustrating inability to finish its scoring chances and, as a result, has missed points that would have put them into a playoff position.

“We have to bear down,” said captain Mats Sundin. “There’s no time for letdowns or hanging heads at this point. We have to keep moving up the ladder.”

Andrew Raycroft is sure to see his 19th straight start.

At the other end of the rink is a goaltending conundrum. The Flyers have two established goalies in Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki, but they’ve had an intriguing development with Michael Leighton.

Claimed off waivers from the Nashville Predators, Leighton won back-to-back games for the Flyers when Esche was sidelined with neck spasms.

Esche is said to be healthy again and coach John Stevens – as is usual – won’t reveal until today who his starting goalie is.

“They’re skating, they’re playing great, they’re getting some goaltending,” Maurice said of the Flyers. “It’s a light, easy game for them. They’re not going to be losing any sleep in that pre-game nap. That’s what makes them dangerous.”

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