Flyers-Maple Leafs: 5 things you need to know

Flyers-Maple Leafs: 5 things you need to know

Is tough schedule starting to get to Flyers?

March 28, 2014, 10:00 am
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The Flyers (38-27-7) will try to get back on track when they host the slumping Toronto Maple Leafs (36-30-8) on Friday evening.

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. (CSN) at the Wells Fargo Center.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

1. A must-win?
It’s clutch time. The Flyers have just 10 games remaining this season and enter Friday three points behind the New York Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division with a game in hand. They are three points ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the third and final guaranteed spot in the Metro and will be looking to create some distance so they don’t end up in the wild-card race.

So is Friday’s matchup with the Maple Leafs a must-win? You bet. Why? The Flyers have dropped back-to-back games after an impressive five-game winning streak. They simply can’t afford to head into Sunday’s showdown with Eastern Conference’s most-dangerous team, the Boston Bruins, having lost three games in a row.

Flyers head coach Craig Berube, who gave his team the day off Thursday to rest, isn’t even entertaining the thought of the playoffs yet.

“I’m not thinking about that,” he said (see story). “I’m just thinking about the next game. We’ve got to fight to get into the playoffs, that’s what we’re thinking about now.”

The Flyers have a great opportunity to bounce back on Friday. Toronto has lost six consecutive contests and has fallen out of the playoff hunt. The Flyers need to come out strong and take advantage of a reeling Leafs team. It would be a perfect way to get back on track and kick off their stretch run.

2. Terrible vs. Toronto
The Flyers get one more crack at the Maple Leafs as Friday will mark the third and final meeting between the two clubs this season.

Toronto has dominated the season series, coming away with a 3-1 victory on Oct. 2 in Philadelphia and a 4-3 overtime thriller at home on March 8.

Why have the Flyers struggled against the Leafs? Look no further than Jonathan Bernier and Joffrey Lupul. Bernier is 2-0 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in his two starts against the Flyers in 2013-14. As for Lupul, the 30-year-old has lit up his former team for four points in two games and potted the Leafs’ OT winner they last time they faced the Flyers.

3. Giroux vs. Kessel
This matchup will feature two of the top scorers in the NHL.

Flyers captain Claude Giroux enters Friday tied with Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin for fourth place in the league in points (75). We all know Giroux got off to a very slow start, but he has elevated his play significantly over the past few months.

Be honest, did you think Giroux would be in the top five in scoring at this point of the season after he went 15 games without a goal? It's been a remarkable turnaround.

On the other end of the ice is Leafs forward Phil Kessel, who sits two points ahead of Giroux and Seguin for third place in the league in points (77). The 26-year-old is having a stellar campaign. His next goal will tie a career high, and he needs just six points in Toronto’s next eight games to beat his previous career-best of 82, set in 2011-12.

The Flyers have done an admirable job of shutting down Kessel. He has just one goal in two games against them this season. But Toronto has done an even better job keeping Giroux off the board. Giroux has failed to register a point while averaging almost 24 minutes of ice time in two games vs. the Leafs this season.

4. Injuries
Steve Downie has missed the Flyers’ past two games with an upper-body injury. He hasn’t been diagnosed with a concussion, but the team his treating him as if he has one.

General manager Paul Holmgren didn’t get into specifics about what’s ailing Downie but added the 26-year-old forward is dealing with “other issues,” too. However, Holmgren also said Downie is “getting better” and is questionable for Friday’s game.

Leafs defenseman Paul Ranger is out indefinitely with head and neck injuries. Ranger was taken off on a stretcher after turning his back and being hit head-first into the glass by Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Kilhorn last Wednesday. There’s no timetable for his return.

5. This and that
• Giroux has five goals and 13 assists in 12 games this month.

• Kessel has two tallies and two helpers during his current four-game point streak.

• The Flyers have successfully killed 32 of 33 penalties over their last nine games.

• In 72 games with the Leafs this season, former Flyer James van Riemsdyk has already set career highs in goals (28), assists (29) and points (57).

• The Flyers haven’t lost three consecutive games since dropping four in a row from Jan. 20-25.