While the Flyers inch closer to being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, they benefited greatly last night from another team desperate to make the postseason.

Needing a veteran defenseman to stop their free fall, the Atlanta Thrashers sent highly touted defensive prospect Braydon Coburn to the Flyers for veteran Alexei Zhitnik.

Coburn is a 21-year-old stud defenseman who skates extremely well for someone 6-foot-5, 220 pounds.

"He's got tremendous size; he skates well and moves the puck well," said Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, announcing the deal shortly after another lackluster home loss, 5-2, to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Wachovia Center.

"He won't be a high point scorer, but one of those middle-of-the-road guys. For a big man, he really moves well. . . . He's a guy we liked a long time who never found his niche in Atlanta, which has an older group of defensemen."

A first-round pick (eighth overall) in the 2003 draft, Coburn has just four assists in 29 games for Atlanta, averaging almost 12 minutes ice time a game. Many of the younger Flyers are familiar with him as he played for the Chicago Wolves during the 2005 Calder Cup finals against the Phantoms.

Holmgren said Coburn would play right away.

Zhitnik, 34, said he understood the trade.

"I liked being here, and I appreciated that the organization was very good to me," Zhitnik said.

Zhitnik had two years left on his deal at $3.5 million each. Coburn earned $471,200 this season and has one year left at $942,400.

The Flyers will have a young blue line next season with Coburn, Alexandre Picard, Joni Pitkanen, Randy Jones and possibly prospect Ryan Parent.

As for last night's loss, the Leafs are one of 17 clubs the Flyers will face in the final six weeks of the season that are within six points of a playoff spot.

The Leafs' sense of urgency to pick up two points and perhaps catch the Carolina Hurricanes in the process was evident, while the Flyers showed no sense of urgency,

"I can't argue with that," said defenseman Derian Hatcher. "I don't know what happened tonight. It was turnovers just everywhere."

The Flyers showed some late vigor in the final period, trailing by 3-1. But after yet another Flyers power play went quietly into the darkness, Mats Sundin put it out of reach with his 26th goal at 8 minutes, 41 seconds.

"We didn't manage the puck very well," said Flyers coach John Stevens. "We give a team who is [playoff desperate] like they are, give them the lead, everything becomes more difficult."

The first 40 minutes were all Toronto, with goals from Alex Steen, Jeff O'Neill and Chad Kilger. The Flyers had seven shots in the first period and just one through the first eight minutes of the second period, and they trailed, 3-0.

"That is a team battling to make the playoffs," said Flyers forward Sami Kapanen. "The lack of desperation or whatever it takes to win the game, the mentality seems to be easier to bail out.

"Everyone knows we have to turn this around before the season is over or otherwise it's going to be a struggle going into next season."

Baumgartner to Stars. Dallas claimed Flyers defenseman Nolan Baumgartner off waivers yesterday. That plays in Hatcher's favor because the Stars were among the teams looking to trade for him earlier this month.

Flyers Wives Fight for Lives Carnival

This is no ordinary Sunday. For the Flyers' wives, it's an event they have been planning for a year.

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Flyers Wives Fight for Lives Carnival. It will be held at the Wachovia Center, and it runs from 1:30 p.m. until 6.

"It's such a big tradition in this town," said co-chairman Megan Knuble, wife of Mike Knuble. "We're making a big difference in the Philadelphia area. Thirty years is a big deal, and I'm proud to be part of it."

This carnival is said by the organizers to be the largest one-day cancer benefit in the United States hosted by a professional sports franchise. The Carnival has raised more than $20 million. Last year's total was a record $1.2 million.

The money funds a number of charities, including the original charity of decades ago, the Barry Ashbee Research Laboratories at Hahnemann University Hospital.

In addition to games, prizes and the chance to mingle with the players, carnival organizers have provided live entertainment, bands and DJs, said Mary Ann Saleski, senior vice president of the Comcast-Spectacor Foundation, which oversees the Carnival. "We've divided the building this year into zones. So, we have things that appeal to different ages."

- Tim PanaccioEndText

Contact staff writer Tim Panaccio

at 215-854-2847 or tpanaccio@phillynews.com.