By Michael McCarthy
Every game for the Flyers is a must-win.
They are four points behind the Boston Bruins for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and they blew a game they should have won the other night in Carolina.
Philly (26-24-11) has only put together four winning streaks of at least three games, and its longest was four after beating Toronto 1-0 at home on Jan. 31.
The Flyers are 4-2-4 since, failing to score more than three goals in any of those games, as they sit four points back of Boston for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot and two behind Florida.
“We just gotta find a way; find the right rhythm. Find the way you want to play the game defensively and offensively,” right wing Jakub Voracek said (photo above). “Here we are four points out now. Obviously, it’s our goal to catch the Bruins and the Panthers. Just gotta make sure that everybody knows in this locker room what’s at stake.”
That didn’t seem to be the case Tuesday when Philly turned in a listless effort in a 4-1 loss at Carolina, which has the second-fewest points in the East. That came after beating NHL-leading Nashville and Washington on consecutive days over the weekend.
“I’m baffled,” coach Craig Berube said. “We didn’t execute very well at all and lacked energy. I can look back at the weekend and we had two big games, two emotional games. Maybe it zapped our emotions. That’s the big thing for me – the energy and emotion that were lacking.”
Goals from Voracek have also been scarce. He has two over the past 18 games, but he’s added 10 assists as he ranks among the league leaders with a career-high 64 points.
Voracek has 12 points in 13 games against the Maple Leafs, with 10 coming in six visits to Toronto. He collected four assists in a 7-4 victory at Air Canada Centre on Dec. 20.
Ray Emery got the win in that meeting, but he’s out with a lower-body injury. Steve Mason, who stopped all 30 shots against the Leafs (24-31-5) last month, has missed eight games with a lower-body injury but acted as Rob Zepp’s backup Tuesday.
It’s unclear if Mason is ready to start, so Zepp – a 33-year-old rookie – could get a fourth straight start after making 31 saves against the Hurricanes.
While the Flyers are dealing with injuries in net, the Maple Leafs are expected to get captain Dion Phaneuf back after a 12-game absence due to a broken hand.
“There’s enthusiasm at our practices. The room gets a little more energetic,” coach Peter Horachek said. “I think it’s real positive having him back and that leadership and back in the room, so it’s just a boost all the way around.”
Toronto sure can use one as it goes for back-to-back wins for the first time since a season-high six-game winning streak Dec. 6-16. The Leafs are 5-22-2 since after snapping a five-game slide with Saturday’s 4-3 overtime win over Winnipeg.
Nazem Kadri had a goal and an assist, giving him seven points in nine games. The center has failed to get a point in the last three meetings with the Flyers, and he’s a minus-5 against them this season.
Toronto traded forward Daniel Winnik to Pittsburgh on Wednesday for forward Zach Sill and a pair of draft picks. Winnik had seven goals and 18 assists in 58 games and was leading the Leafs with a plus-15.