MAPLE LEAFS (36-30-8) at FLYERS (38-27-7)
TV: RDS2, SNET-O, CSN-PH
Last 10: Toronto 3-7-0; Philadelphia 6-3-1
Season series: It's the third and final regular-season game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers. The Maple Leafs won the first two games, beating the Flyers 3-1 on Oct. 2 in Philadelphia and 4-3 in overtime in Toronto on March 8.
Big story: The race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs is beginning to tighten and the Flyers and Maple Leafs are two of the teams hoping to secure one of the remaining spots in the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers enter third in the Metropolitan Division, but their loss Wednesday to the New York Rangers was their second straight after winning five in a row.
The Maple Leafs have lost six straight to enter play Friday outside of the playoff hunt. Part of their problem has been slow starts. The Leafs were outshot 23-7 in the first period of their game Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues.
"We're starting games terribly," Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel said. "We're getting down a couple goals. They're outplaying us for the first half of the game, then all of a sudden we wake up and it's just too late."
Maple Leafs: After going without a point and posting a minus-3 rating in a 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf opted not to speak to the media.
It was the Maple Leafs' sixth straight loss, and Phaneuf said Thursday he was too emotional after the game to speak.
However, Phaneuf spoke Thursday to whoever wanted to hear him, and started by saying he needed to be better in his own game.
"That wasn't even close to the level I have to play at," he said. "I accept responsibility for that."
Teammates defended their captain for his play on the ice and his role as leader off the ice.
"Him not talking one day, I think people made way too big a deal of it," Kessel said. "Everyone deserves a day or two off here. Dion's a fun guy in the [locker] room and everyone loves him here. … What happened with him not talking got blown way out of proportion."
Flyers: After a stretch of games against some of the best teams in the League, Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux said he and his teammates "were tired" in a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday.
Coach Craig Berube appeared to agree with Giroux and gave the team Thursday off to save its legs for two big games over the weekend, Friday against the Maple Leafs and Sunday against the Boston Bruins.
"Teams are going to battle hard and we need to battle hard," Berube said after the loss Wednesday. "We need everyone going, doing the right things out there."
Giroux said he and his teammates need to use their day off wisely and come to the rink Friday ready to work.
"I think coming up here we have to make sure we get some rest," he said. "Next two games at home are going to be huge."
Who's hot: Kessel has points in four straight games for the Maple Leafs. … In 12 games in March, Giroux has five goals and 13 assists for the Flyers.
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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