PHILADELPHIA -- With more than 1,000 games, a Stanley Cup, a Rocket Richard Trophy and four All-Star Games in 15 NHL seasons, Philadelphia Flyers forward Vincent Lecavalier has crafted an impressive resume.
But with zero goals in six games entering Friday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and 15 in 59 games this season, Philadelphia coach Craig Berube tried a new approach with Lecavalier, granting him his wish of returning to his natural center position. It came with a drop to the fourth line, where he would be centering Zac Rinaldo and Adam Hall.
Lecavalier responded to the demotion with one of his best games of the season, scoring the first goal for the Flyers, who rode the early momentum to a 4-2 win that ended a two-game losing streak.
Claude Giroux had a goal and two assists, Scott Hartnell had a goal and an assist, and Wayne Simmonds scored for the Flyers. Kimmo Timonen had two assists, and Steve Mason made 32 saves for Philadelphia, which moved within one point of the New York Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers pushed their lead on the fourth-place Columbus Blue Jackets to five points.
James van Riemsdyk and Dave Bolland scored for the Maple Leafs, who lost their seventh straight game, all in regulation.
Lecavalier wouldn't come out and say he had extra motivation Friday, but his teammates said they saw a different level of play from the 33-year-old.
"He was awesome," Giroux said. "He was a beast. That first goal was really clutch for us."
The Flyers were on their first power play when Nikolai Kulemin was called for tripping, giving Philadelphia a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:36. They needed three seconds to score the first goal.
Giroux won a faceoff on the left side back to Timonen, who moved the puck to Lecavalier in the right circle. He fired a one-timer past Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier at 5:35.
The goal was the 399th of Lecavalier's career; he would be the 90th player in NHL history with 400 goals, and eighth active.
"It felt good to get a lead," Lecavalier said. "It was a great play by Kimmo. He called it before because their forward got kicked out, there was a defenseman taking the draw. He told me to be ready. He made a perfect play and [Giroux] with that faceoff, it was a perfect play by those two guys. I knew that if I got high I'd get a chance to score."
Toronto forward Jay McClement was kicked out of the circle, which forced defenseman Dion Phaneuf to take the first faceoff of his nine-season NHL career.
"I tried to do something, but he's a pretty good faceoff guy, though, and he won it clean," Phaneuf said. "It's a tough situation."
It was Lecavalier's eighth power-play goal.
"It gives everyone an eye-opener," Rinaldo said. "No matter what line you're on or no matter how you're playing, you've got to keep positive. ... I'm on the fourth line and him coming down to my line, he wasn't negative, [angry] about it. He gave me some pointers so it helped a lot."
Hartnell has been in Lecavalier's position in the past so he knew what his teammate was feeling.
"I think everyone through their career, I don't know if embarrassed is the word, but you get a talking-to, a message sent: 'Pick up your game,'" Hartnell said. "It's happened to me many times when you struggle for a bunch of games in a row. I think for him, he came out with an attitude. He was all over the puck, he was playing great defensively.
"You can take it two ways. You can sulk and be a baby about it or do what he did."
Lecavalier said his focus was on having the best game he could.
"I can't speak for the other guys," he said. "It was a big game. Every time I'm put out there I try to do my best. It worked out well [Friday]. I think we played well as a line."
Berube said he saw what he wanted to see from Lecavalier, who finished with three shots on goal and three hits in 13:32 of ice time.
"He played good," Berube said. "He got that power-play goal. He was skating, moving his feet. That line was very good, very effective. He is a team guy and wants to do what he can do to help the hockey team."
The Maple Leafs tied it 1-1 in the second when van Riemsdyk equaled a League record by scoring four seconds into a period.
When the puck was dropped, Toronto's Tyler Bozak pushed it between the skates of Sean Couturier and stepped around him. He found van Riemsdyk streaking down the left side and shoved the puck to him. Van Riemsdyk got to the left circle and fired a shot that beat Mason for his 29th goal of the season.
Claude Provost of the Montreal Canadiens scored four seconds into the second period against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 9, 1957, and Denis Savard of the Chicago Blackhawks scored four seconds into the third period against the Hartford Whalers on Jan. 12, 1986.
Van Riemsdyk wasn't in much of a mood to celebrate afterward.
"Cool, I guess," he said. "When you lose it's tough. We know the situation we're in and [Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings] is pretty much as close to a do-or-die game as you can have."
Hartnell gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead on a power-play goal at 11:03 of the second, this time five seconds into a man-advantage. With Bolland in the box for interference, Giroux beat McClement on a faceoff, winning it back to Timonen, who took a shot from the center of the blue line. Hartnell, stationed in the high slot, tipped the puck down and it bounced past Bernier, who had slid to his right and couldn't reach back for the puck. The goal was Hartnell's 20th, the seventh time in 13 seasons he's reached that mark.
Giroux pushed the lead to 3-1 when he turned a van Riemsdyk turnover into his 25th goal of the season at 4:55 of the third.
Bolland responded with his first goal since Oct. 26 to get the Maple Leafs back to within 3-2. He was tripped behind the Philadelphia net by Luke Schenn, and Toronto was able to cycle the puck on the delayed penalty. Jake Gardiner ended up with the puck at the blue line and passed to Mason Raymond. Mason stopped Raymond's shot from the right side, but Bolland jumped into the slot to bang in the rebound at 6:18.
Toronto continued to push, but Simmonds added the insurance goal when he scored his 25th of the season at 12:39 of the third period. Andrew MacDonald lofted a dump-in that bounced on Phaneuf. He couldn't control it, and Brayden Schenn was able to knock it away from him. Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri was back to help, but Simmonds lifted his stick, controlled the puck and fired a quick shot past Bernier.
"It's 40 feet in the air so it comes down, hits my glove and bounces straight out," Phaneuf said. "I don't know what more you want me to do there. It hits my glove and bounces out. That's just the way it goes when it's that high in the air and it's rolling. I'm trying to bat it out and it takes a funny bounce off of my glove."
The Maple Leafs lost a chance to make a move in the race for one of the Eastern Conference wild-card spots for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and remain tied with three teams with 80 points. The Maple Leafs have played more games than the others; they have seven remaining.
"They've done it before," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. "That's what the belief is. They've proven to us before they can play the game at a high level."
The Flyers were determined not to let recent losses to the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers turn into a longer streak, especially with a game against the conference-leading Boston Bruins on Sunday.
"It's a long, slippery road when you let things like that get at you," Simmonds said. "We knew that if we came out and played hard and just continued to push and stuck with our systems that we'd be fine, and that's what we did."
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK