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Flyers continue playoff push against Leafs

by John McGourty
MAPLE LEAFS (20-32-12) at FLYERS (33-26-4)

Last 10 -- Toronto 3-5-2; Philadelphia 6-3-1.

Season Series -- This is the third of four meetings and each team has won at home. The Flyers haven't looked better than when Danny Briere had two goals and Michael Leighton improved to 5-0-1 with Philadelphia in a 6-2 romp on Jan. 6 at the Wachovia Center. The Flyers haven't looked worse than in the 4-0 Jan. 14
loss in Toronto when Tyler Bozak scored his first NHL goal and the departed Vesa Toskala made 38 saves. The teams meet again in Toronto on April 6.

Big Story -- The Flyers, sixth in the East, went into the Olympic break on a four-game winning streak but went 1-1-1 on the three-game road trip that followed. This week, they have a four-game homestand, hosting two weaker Eastern Conference teams in the Maple Leafs and Islanders before playing the Bruins and the Blackhawks. This homestand is critical to their playoff hopes. The Maple Leafs trail the conference and their players are trying to convince management that they should be part of the team's future. Since he returned from injury on Nov. 3, Phil Kessel leads the NHL with 227 shots.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs -- There's a theory that a Stanley Cup winner, in the salary-cap era, needs three forwards in the Top 30, two defensemen in the Top 20 and a goalie in the Top 10. You could argue that defensemen Dion Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle fit the bill and are well backed by Luke Schenn and Francois Beauchemin, that Jean-Sebastien Giguere is capable of that ranking and that they need to build the forward corps. Kessel, Bozak and Nikolai Kulemin were on the first line last night against Ottawa and did well, taking 12 shots, scoring a regulation goal and getting both scores in the shootout. There is emerging talent on the NHL's youngest roster in Viktor Stalberg, Carl Gunnarsson and Luca Caputi. Plus, as promised, they're tough.

Flyers -- Leighton is in the spotlight now that Ray Emery is out for the rest of the season and management decided to go with Leighton and Brian Boucher down the stretch. Leighton looked good in the easy win against Tampa Bay, no better than his teammates in the sloppy Florida loss and terrific in the matchup Friday night against Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller. Make no mistake about it, Leighton will be the Flyers' most important player over their last 19 games. Leighton is 13-3-2 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .922 save percentage for the Flyers.

Who's Hot -- Flyers center Mike Richards has six points in threee games. Jeff Carter has six points in five games. Simon Gagne has four points in three games.  ... Bozak, a rookie, took 31 of 59 faceoffs against Ottawa. Kessel feeds off success and he had a goal and shootout score against the Sens.

Injury Report -- Flyers forward Darroll Powe has missed two games with a foot injury. Defenseman Oskars Bartulis has missed three games with a groin problem. Defenseman Danny Syvret has been out since Jan. 13 with a shoulder injury. Goalie Ray Emery is out for the season with a hip injury. ... Maple Leafs left wing Fredrik Sjostrom was injured Saturday night against Ottawa; no word on the nature of the injury or his status for tonight. Toronto forward Mikhail Grabovski has been out since Jan. 5 with a broken wrist. Defensemen Mike Komisarek and Mike Van Ryn are out for the season.

Stat Pack -- Kaberle is fourth among NHL defenseman with 46 points and the only blueliner to lead his team in scoring this season. No Maple Leafs defenseman has ever led the team in scoring. Ian Turnbull set the team record for defenseman with 79 in 1976-77 and Borje Salming was a point behind him. Darryl Sittler and Lanny MacDonald tied for the team lead in 1976-77 with 90 points.

Puck Drop -- Ville Leino was the 2008 Finnish League player of the year, but he didn't catch on in two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, who traded him to
Philadelphia on Feb. 6. The Flyers gave him his first start Wednesday at Florida and he scored a goal. The Flyers moved Leino up to the first line with Carter and Briere against Buffalo. They didn't score, but they had 12 of the Flyers' 29 shots and showed great speed.
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