TORONTO – The Flyers’ 7-6 loss Friday night to the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t officially eliminate them from playoff contention.
But it sure felt like a defeat that, in effect, ended their bizarre season.
They blew a 5-2 lead and fell to the Maple Leafs at ear-splitting Scotiabank Arena.
Auston Matthews scored on a slot shot after the Flyers couldn’t clear their zone, snapping a 5-5 tie with 5 minutes left in regulation.
Toronto, which skated circles around the Flyers all night, secured the win as Matthews scored on a rebound with 2:39 left.
With Brian Elliott pulled for an extra attacker, James van Riemsdyk completed a hat trick and brought the Flyers to within 7-6 with 1:14 remaining. But goalie Frederik Andersen made a clutch save just before the buzzer to preserve the win.
The Flyers, one of the league’s hottest teams over the last two-plus months, suffered their second straight loss and fell seven points out of a playoff spot with 11 games left.
“I’ve got to come up with one of those,” said Elliott after the Flyers were outshot, 51-29. “They were coming at us all night and we were playing back-to-back [nights] and we were running out of gas. We gave ourselves a chance and we just couldn’t keep it.”
“It definitely stings,” van Riemsdyk said. “We just have to move on and be ready to go Sunday [in Pittsburgh]. Obviously it gets to the point where you only have so many bullets left in the chamber, and certainly we have to have a pretty good run here the rest of the way to put ourselves in a [playoff] position.”
Toronto tied the score at 5-5 when defenseman Martin Marincin scored his first goal of the season, firing a shot that deflected off the glove of defenseman Robert Hagg and past Elliott with 17:05 left in regulation.
The Flyers outscored the Leafs, 4-3, during a wild second period in which the teams played little defense and got shoddy goaltending.
Van Riemsdyk (plus-5) had two of the second-period goals against his former team – a tip-in and a rebound – and the Flyers also got tallies from Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas in the stanza.
Van Riemsdyk has 18 goals in 28 games since Jan. 10, tied for the second-most in the league in that span. “I’m playing with smart players who get the puck to the net," he said.
When an all-alone Gostisbehere scored on a rebound with 6:33 left in the second, the Flyers had a 5-2 lead. But Elliott – who had played brilliantly until the latter stages of the second – allowed two goals to defenseman Jake Muzzin as the Leafs closed the gap to 5-4 heading into the third period. The last goal, from long range, might have deflected off a Flyers defenseman.
The Flyers were constantly on their heels as they allowed the much-speedier Leafs to easily enter the offensive zone throughout the first 40 minutes, during which Toronto had a 35-20 shots domination and a huge territorial advantage.
To honor St. Patrick’s Day weekend, the Maple Leafs wore green and white uniforms that showcased “St. Pats” – the team’s nickname 100 years ago.
Whatever you called them, they dominated the first period, creating a shooting gallery at Elliott, who stopped 18 of 19 shots in the opening 20 minutes.
The Flyers, outshot by a 19-11 margin, were fortunate to leave the ice tied at 1-all after the first. Toronto had a whopping 37 shot attempts (16 more than the Flyers) in the period.
With 7:38 left in the first, the Flyers took a 1-0 lead when Nolan Patrick won a faceoff from Matthews and fed Jake Voracek, who ripped a one-timer from the left circle past Andersen. Voracek had missed the previous two games because of a league-mandated suspension.
Interim coach Scott Gordon thought playing on back-to-back nights hurt his team against the rested Leafs.
“They were waiting here and coming off two losses and they were on their toes most of the night,” he said.