Flyers Set for Pair Versus Leafs
Home-and-home begins Tuesday at Air Canada Centre
Monday, 03.10.2008 / 10:43 PM / News
By Kevin Kurz - philadelphiaflyers.com
Biron, Carter and Stevens after pregame skate (3/11): FlyersTV
Briere talks about wearing the "no-contact" jersey and the upcoming games against Toronto (3/10): FlyersTV
(Voorhees, NJ) – For the Philadelphia Flyers, two straight games this week against the 13th-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs gives them the chance to solidify their grasp on a playoff spot. For Toronto, two games with the Flyers offers an opportunity to get right back in the thick of things.
The rivals will meet on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre (7:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet) and Wednesday night at the Wachovia Center (7:00 p.m., Comcast SportsNet). It goes without saying that every game from here on out means a lot in the standings, and these two are no different.
|Antero Niittymaki makes one of his 54 saves on the night during the last Flyers-Toronto game at the Air Canada Centre on January 5. The Flyers won, 3-2. (Getty Images)|
The Flyers hold a three-point lead on the ninth place Buffalo Sabres, while Toronto is eight points behind in the battle for a postseason birth.
“If you’re Toronto, these are the two games you’ve really targeted,” said John Stevens, after his club practiced on Monday morning before boarding a charter flight later in the afternoon. “They’re a tough opponent right now, and a dangerous opponent.”
“They’re trying to stay motivated and are probably saying if we beat them twice, we’re not that far out,” added Danny Briere. “I expect them to come out extremely hard for these two games.”
Both teams have impressive records in their last eight games. The Flyers are 5-1-2, while Toronto is 5-2-1. Both regulation losses for the Leafs came at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.
It was reported at the trade deadline in late February that several members of the Maple Leafs refused to waive their no-trade clauses, opting to stay with the club, including captain Mats Sundin who has seven goals in the last eight games.
Stevens thinks that has helped to bring them together.
“They have a lot of players that clearly do not want to go anywhere, and they’ve rallied around each other and have played some of their best hockey of the year,” said Stevens. “They are a good team. The goalie (Vesa Toskala) is playing well, their defense is getting healthy, and they have one of the best offensive players in the league.”
Tuesday will mark the second and final time the clubs meet in Toronto this season. The first time, on January 5, was one of the stranger games of the season. The Flyers won, 3-2, behind 54 saves by Antero Niittymaki and a late tie-breaking power play goal by Mike Richards.
Stevens remembers the game well.
“Scott Hartnell got a 10-minute penalty early taking him off the ice, [Joffrey] Lupul got hurt that game, [Sami] Kapanen got hurt that game,” he explained. “I think we didn’t get our first power play until the third period. They had us on their heels, there’s no question.”
There was also an incident in the game that got plenty of attention in the Canadian media, when Steve Downie punched Jason Blake while the linesmen were separating a scuffle between the two. Downie, who was a healthy scratch in Saturday’s 4-1 win against the Islanders, isn’t concerned about that should he be back in the lineup on Tuesday.
“That’s over and done with,” said the rookie forward. “I’m sure the Toronto media will try and bring it up, but I think it’s a dead [issue].”
Although the meeting in January was one of the best of Niittymaki’s career, according to Stevens, it will be Martin Biron between the pipes on Tuesday.
The Quebec-born Biron, like many Canadian NHL-ers, enjoys playing games in Toronto.
|Toronto's Jason Blake is on the receiving end of this greeting from Steve Downie on January 5 at the Air Canada Centre. (Getty Images)|
“I’ve always liked playing in Toronto. It’s a fun building,” he said. “With Toronto, any night you play in their building, anything can happen. It could be close, a blowout, a tough fighting night, a skill night. It could be anything, so you have to always be ready for whatever game comes at you. In that building, in that atmosphere, I’ve played some teams in Toronto that were just flying out there because of the electricity.
“There are cities when you go into their building for the morning skate, and you don’t have the feel that it’s game day. In Toronto, it’s always feeling like it’s a hockey day.”
Briere taking caution
Danny Briere took part in Monday’s practice wearing the red-cross jersey, signifying no contact. Briere has been nursing a slight right shoulder injury but has played in the last two games, scoring a goal in each one.
He said that it is only precautionary and is making sure the injury doesn’t get any worse.
“We had a couple contact drills, so guys know and see me coming so [I] don’t take unnecessary hits,” he said. “It’s getting much better and we’re trying to get it healed. That’s all it was.”
Forwards Joffrey Lupul and Mike Richards skated with the team on Monday and stayed on the ice by themselves afterwards. Richards said that he is hopeful to return this weekend. … Forward Stefan Ruzicka was reassigned to the Phantoms on Sunday.