If the Toronto Maple Leafs have a shot at making the postseason, it may be imperative for them to sweep a home-and-home set with the team they are chasing for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.
The first of those two games happens Tuesday when the Maple Leafs host the resurgent Philadelphia Flyers.
Toronto (30-30-10) is hoping to avoid missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season, which would be the franchise's longest drought in 80 years.
The Maple Leafs have played much better recently, going 5-2-1 in their last eight games. However, two home losses to East-leading New Jersey in the past three games have dropped them eight points behind eighth-place Philadelphia (35-26-8).
"Every loss for us makes our battle tougher," Toronto forward Alex Steen said.
Following Tuesday's contest, these teams meet in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs have lost both matchups this season - 4-1 on the road on Dec. 27 and 3-2 at home on Jan. 5 - after sweeping all four meetings in 2006-07.
Toronto is 13th in the East and only has 12 games left to make up ground. The club's next three games after this home-and-home series come against teams also trying to chase down Philadelphia, with a pair of games versus ninth-place Buffalo and one against the 12th-place New York Islanders.
The Flyers, meanwhile, have gone 5-1-1 since a 10-game losing streak. Improved play on special teams could be key to their chances of securing a postseason berth.
|Toronto Maple Leafs center Mats Sundin comes into tonight's game riding an eight-game point streak. (AP Photo/Mark Avery)
Philadelphia has killed off all 13 of its opponents' power plays over the last three games. One of its top penalty killers, defenseman Derian Hatcher, returned to the ice Saturday after missing 12 games with a knee injury.
As for their own power play, the Flyers have been among the best all season and currently rank second in the league at 22.7 percent despite a recent 6-for-63 slump. They broke out of that funk with a 4-for-7 effort Saturday in a 4-1 win over the Islanders.
"You have to get the puck to the net," said forward Scott Hartnell, who scored two of those power-play goals. "Good things happen when you get the puck to the net."
Philadelphia now faces a Toronto team which has been very good on special teams in its last seven road games, going 10-for-24 with the man advantage and holding the opposition to 4-for-30.
Jeff Carter and Daniel Briere also scored on the power play Saturday for the Flyers, who have totaled 24 goals over the last seven games.
Carter has seven goals and two assists in that span, and he's scored in both meetings with Toronto this season. He's riding a five-game point streak, while teammate Kimmo Timonen has totaled 10 assists during a six-game streak.
Toronto captain Mats Sundin has recorded a point in eight straight contests, compiling seven goals and seven assists. He's scored all three of the Leafs' goals in their season series with the Flyers and has a nine-game point streak against them.
Sundin will look to keep those streaks going as he's likely to face Martin Biron, who is 5-1-1 with a 1.98 goals-against average in his last seven appearances. Biron is 4-1-2 in his last seven starts versus the Leafs.
Briere has 21 points - three this season - in his last 18 games against Toronto, and his teams have a 13-4-1 record in those matchups.