Trying to hang on to their slim lead in the race for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers will be looking to take advantage of a relatively soft schedule to close the season.
The Flyers play a home-and-home series against the Toronto Maple Leafs to start that seven-game stretch, beginning Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre.
Philadelphia (41-24-10) has a one-point lead over Carolina, winner of six straight, for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers play four of their remaining games against lesser teams, with Ottawa and the NHL-worst New York Islanders joining the Leafs (31-32-13) as opponents Philadelphia should be able to pick up points against.
The Flyers, though, are looking to end a minor slump, as they fell 4-3 to Boston on Sunday for their second loss in three games.
Antero Niittymaki, making his first start in seven games, allowed three first-period goals. Philadelphia pulled within a goal twice but couldn't get the equalizer despite outshooting the Bruins 32-16 over the final two periods.
The Flyers had to rally to beat the NHL-worst Islanders the night before, as they scored three times in the third period and went on to a 4-3 shootout win. Philadelphia has been outscored 5-1 in the first period of its last three games.
"We've played catch-up two nights in a row," coach John Stevens told the Flyers' official Web site. "It caught up with us tonight."
Philadelphia and Toronto have split their last six meetings after the Maple Leafs won the previous six. The Flyers have lost in their last two visits to Toronto, the most recent a 4-2 defeat Nov. 29.
Forward Mike Richards, who ended a four-game point drought with a goal Sunday, has three goals in the two games against the Maple Leafs this season. He's scored four goals in his last four road games versus Toronto.
The Maple Leafs have dropped two straight, falling 7-5 to the Bruins on Saturday. Justin Pogge started in net after relieving Curtis Joseph in a 5-3 loss to Buffalo the night before, but he lasted only 32:44, giving up six goals on 20 shots before Joseph came in.
Alexei Ponikarovsky scored his second goal of the game 6:06 into the second period to give Toronto a 4-3 lead, but Boston responded with four unanswered goals to end the period.
"It was a tough loss, giving up seven goals is never fun," left wing Niklas Hagman said. "We made it tough on our goalies."
The Maple Leafs scored 29 goals in their last seven games, but gave up 28.
Toronto is on the verge of being eliminated from postseason contention. In 12th place with 75 points, the Maple Leafs trail eighth-place Montreal by double digits with six games remaining.
Toronto, which won 36 games last season, last made the postseason in 2004.
"At the beginning of the year (the goal was) to assess our talent and move forward," first-year coach Ron Wilson said. "My main assignment was to make everybody better and I think in a lot of cases we succeeded."
Ponikarovsky has four goals and five assists during a five-game point streak.
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