PHILADELPHIA -- The Toronto Maple Leafs must like one-goal games -- they're getting awfully good at them.
The Leafs played their ninth straight one-goal game and improved to 6-0-3 in those contests by beating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center.
Darryl Boyce scored the go-ahead goal with 4:30 left in regulation, Dion Phaneuf had a goal and an assist and Nikolai Kulemin also scored for the Leafs. Rookie goalie James Reimer stopped 28 shots to earn the victory.
Kris Versteeg, in his first game against his former team, scored twice for the Flyers.
The 10th-place Leafs now are 10-2-4 since the All-Star break and have 67 points, pulling them within three points of the eighth-place New York Rangers for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Leafs also have a game in hand.
"I was actually kind of shocked we had that much energy," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said of his team, which beat the Penguins 3-2 in overtime at home on Wednesday. "We talked about trying to establish a forecheck. We thought that would be our best way getting them hemmed in their zone. Was able to use four lines and everybody had a great game."
It's the first time the Flyers have lost consecutive games since Dec. 20 and Dec. 28. They also saw their Eastern Conference lead shrink to three points on the Boston Bruins, who won their seventh in a row by beating Tampa Bay 2-1.
Thursday's game was tied in the later stages of the third when Boyce won a battle for the puck behind the Philadelphia net, walked in front and scored his fourth of the season and first in 15 games.
"I think it was a lot of speed coming through the neutral zone," Boyce said. "Colby (Armstrong) pulled up, made their defense think a little bit and dumped it in the corner. I was flying, putting pressure on that defenseman. Did a quick little cycle, reverse from Colby, he bumped it back to me and I took it hard to the net."
It was a nice moment for Boyce, who still sports a nasty scar around his nose from getting his face caught in the photographers' hole in the glass during a game Feb. 3. He needed 24 stitches to repair a torn nostril -- though remarkably, he never missed a game.
"Colby Armstrong made a nice play to him, but from that point on it's a great individual effort," Wilson said. "Great for Boyce. He's had a lot of physical pain over the last three weeks or so."
The Flyers were the ones feeling pain on the tying goal in the final seconds of the second period. They were skating on a power play when they were whistled for having too many men on the ice with 18.2 seconds left.
"That was my fault," captain Mike Richards said. "I actually thought I saw Scott (Hartnell) coming, and just wasn't paying attention and jumped on the ice. They ended up scoring on us. That was my fault."
Seconds later, Phaneuf jumped on the rebound of a Kulemin shot lying in the crease and shoveled it into the net with 10.5 seconds remaining.
"I was really excited to get that one," Phaneuf said of his fourth goal of the season. "Real good play by Kuly (Kulemin) and Grabo (Mikhail Grabovski) to make that play happen, Kuly to get the shot off. Big goal for our team. I was really excited to be able to tap that in."
Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger wasn't happy with the penalty.
"I don't think it's acceptable at any point in the season, let alone right now," Pronger said. "We know they're fighting for their lives and are a desperate team, and we have to play with that same desperation to counter that."
The Flyers were whistled for eight minor penalties during the game -- four in the first period alone, three of them on Andrej Meszaros.
"It's difficult when you're taxing the same guys on the penalty kill," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "They get worn down. It's hard to get a flow on the bench. There's guys that sit for extended periods of time. We had eight minutes in the first period on the penalty kill. It disrupts the flow of the game and disrupts the flow of the bench."
There was nothing but good feelings early as Versteeg opened the scoring against the team that traded him away last month with his 16th goal of the season and second with the Flyers 5:49 into the game. Pronger tried to get a shot through from the blue line, but it deflected off a Leafs player and went to Richards down low. Richards spun and sent the puck across the offensive zone to Versteeg, who one-timed the pass past Reimer.
But the Leafs tied it just 21 seconds later, after Hartnell passed the puck right to the Leafs' Clarke MacArthur at the Philadelphia blue line. MacArthur skated to the top of the circles and ripped a slap shot that Kulemin re-directed past Sergei Bobrovsky at 6:10.
Versteeg scored again at 7:07 of the second when Richards sent a pass through the slot to an unmarked Versteeg on the left post for an easy tap-in that gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead.
However, his first two-goal game since Nov 19, 2009, didn't matter as much as the scoreboard.
"It would have been nice but stuff happens and you just move on and get ready for the next game," Versteeg said.
For the Leafs, that next game comes Saturday night at home against Chicago -- and if it's another close one, well, that's OK with them.
"It's that time of year," Phaneuf said. "Playing down the stretch the games are tight. You saw that again (Thursday). Everything is a one-goal game. Teams are playing for positioning and playing for their lives. There are big points on the line, and that's why the games are so tight."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
|Kris Versteeg (16) ASST: Mike Richards (34), Chris Pronger (21)|
1 - 0 PHI
|Nikolai Kulemin (24) ASST: Clarke MacArthur (31)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Kris Versteeg (17) ASST: Mike Richards (35), Matthew Carle (27)|
2 - 1 PHI
|Dion Phaneuf (4) ASST: Nikolai Kulemin (23), Mikhail Grabovski (24)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Darryl Boyce (4) ASST: Colby Armstrong (14), Dion Phaneuf (16)|
3 - 2 TOR
|Ville Leino Tripping against Luke Schenn|
|Carl Gunnarsson Tripping against Claude Giroux|
|Andrej Meszaros Slashing against Fredrik Sjostrom|
|Andrej Meszaros Cross checking against Darryl Boyce|
|Sean O'Donnell Holding against Tyler Bozak|
|Keith Aulie Fighting (maj) against Scott Hartnell|
|Scott Hartnell Fighting (maj) against Keith Aulie|
|Andrej Meszaros Roughing against Darryl Boyce|
|Phil Kessel Tripping against Matthew Carle|
|Nikolay Zherdev Too many men/ice - bench|
|Tyler Bozak Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Ville Leino Tripping against Joffrey Lupul|
|Scott Hartnell Roughing against Mikhail Grabovski|
|Scott Hartnell Misconduct (10 min) against Mikhail Grabovski|