The Leafs lost starting goaltender Jonas Gustavsson with an injury before the game even started, then saw rookie Jussi Rynnas' first NHL start turn into a club-record 11th straight home loss when they were steamrolled 7-1 by the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night.
With the victory, the fifth-place Flyers pulled within two points of the fourth-place Pittsburgh Penguins, a 5-3 loser to the New York Islanders, in the race for the last home-ice advantage in the opening round. The Flyers visit Pittsburgh on Sunday and again on April 7.
"For us it was trying to get to him early and not let him get comfortable... we wanted to put some pressure and hopefully work it our way," said forward Danny Briere, who had a career-high four assists. "This is a big game for us, we saw Pittsburgh lose, [we're] inching a little closer to them."
Toronto hasn't won at Air Canada Centre since beating Edmonton 6-3 on Feb. 6 and has just two more games at home this season.
Toronto's problems began even before the opening faceoff. Gustavsson was injured during the warmups when he took a shot on the inside of the left leg and had to go to the dressing room. Rynnas, an emergency call-up because of James Reimer's upper-body injury, found himself making a surprise start.
"Almost right away when I saw Monster get the shot, so I was pretty sure I was going into the game," Rynnas said of finding out he'd be making his first NHL start. "I was ready to play so it didn't matter when it happened."
Needless to say, allowing seven goals on 30 shots wasn't what he had in mind in his first start
"You never want to give up seven goals, I am not happy about that," he said. Asked about his own team generating just 17 shots and one goal, he responded that, "My job is just to play, so it doesn't matter what we do at the other end."
Gustavsson returned to the bench at the start of the second period after getting treatment in dressing room throughout the first 20 minutes.
"I pushed, turned my leg and kind of opened up and (the puck) hit me between the pads -- in the bone," Gustavsson said of the injury, which occurred when he stopped a shot by Clarke MacArthur. "Once in a while you get hit with pucks that hurt but you can shake it off, it takes a minute and you are good to go again, but this was a little bit more than that."
The Flyers held a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes on two goals by Brayden Schenn, who opened the scoring at 5:34 on the Flyers' second shot by wiring a bouncing puck high to the short side with Briere in front providing a screen. The quick shot was by design as the Flyers aimed to test the young netminder early.
"That was the plan off the start, we'd seen Gustavsson get hurt in warmups and it was his first game," Schenn said. "I just wanted to fire pucks and happen to beat him on the first or second shot."
Schenn added his 11th of the season just over five minutes later, finishing off a 2-on-1 with Briere. Jaromir Jagr started the play with a great pass to Briere just before the Toronto blue line, and Briere made a perfect pass to Schenn for the goal.
"The reporter out there told me it was my first time; I didn't know," Briere said of his four-assist night. "It's a pretty good feeling late in the season to get it going."
Mikhail Grabovski pulled Toronto within one at 14:16 with a lovely forehand-to-backhand deke on a breakaway before he put the puck into the top corner past Sergei Bobrovsky, who stopped the other 16 shots he faced.
The Flyers made it 3-1 at 3:55 of the second period on a fine individual effort by Wayne Simmonds. He won the puck behind the Maple Leafs net, circled out from the goal line on his forehand and initially looked to make a pass -- but when given room to shoot, he did so and beat a surprised Rynnas from the hash marks for the first of his two goals.
"I was actually looking for a pass...the seas kind of parted and I was wide open so I just took the shot," said the native of Scarborough, Ont., a Toronto suburb, who has a career-best 25 goals this season. "It's nice to have a good game at home, I have a lot of people here tonight. The last game we came in here I didn't really do much and tonight I showed them that I can actually play hockey."
Philadelphia increased its lead to three on a shorthanded goal at 12:03. With Matt Carle off for tripping, Matt Read buried the rebound of Max Talbot's shot for his 23rd goal of the season, the most among NHL rookies.
Eric Wellwood, Jakub Voracek and Simmonds had third-period goals as the Flyers cruised.
Toronto fell to 4-8-2 under new coach Randy Carlyle and 5-17-3 in its last 25 games. The Leafs have managed fewer than 20 shots in five of their last eight games.
"There is not a lot we can say. We've said everything we can say," Carlyle said "You're really looking to the inner self of the individuals to say how we can continue to allow this to happen. We're playing nowhere near what we need to accomplish as far as neutral ice [play], defensive zone coverage, power play especially – it's like everything has gone sideways on us."