The Flyers held Auston Matthews scoreless until the final five minutes of Friday night's game.
And then boom.
Matthews, the Maple Leafs' 21-year-old star drafted first overall in 2016, firmly put his imprint on the evening by scoring back-to-back goals to break a 5-5 tie and deal the Flyers a crushing 7-6 loss at Scotiabank Arena.
The Flyers held a 5-2 lead late in the second period, but not many teams can pin down Matthews and the high-powered Maple Leafs.
Toronto ripped off five consecutive goals and the ridiculous finish very well may be the unofficial nail in the Flyers' coffin for 2018-19.
The Flyers (34-29-8) have lost two straight games and the road gets only tougher with 11 games remaining. To pour salt in the wound, the Blue Jackets took care of business by beating the Hurricanes, 3-0, giving the Flyers a seven-point deficit in the race for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot.
The Flyers came into Friday with a 3.4 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Hockey-Reference.com, while SportsClubStats.com gave them a 2.7 percent chance. Those percentages will sink even lower come Saturday morning (see story).
The Maple Leafs (43-23-5) avoided what would have been only their second three-game losing skid of the season.
• The Flyers always make things interesting. Give them credit, they didn't quit after falling behind 7-5. James van Riemsdyk scored his third goal of the game to trim the deficit with 1:14 left in regulation.
Shayne Gostisbehere actually put a decent shot on goal with one second remaining but Frederik Andersen turned it away to seal the Flyers' fate.
• van Riemsdyk doesn't always score the most aesthetically pleasing goals, but he certainly doesn't luck his way into goals, either. You don't score 30-plus goals twice by accident and van Riemsdyk's net-front approach is actually a treat to watch.
His second trip back to Toronto turned out to be special as van Riemsdyk recorded a hat trick, giving him 18 goals in 28 games since Jan. 10. Over that span, only one NHL player has scored more: Leon Draisaitl (19).
His redirect early in the second period takes superb skill. The goal gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead before van Riemsdyk decided to balloon the advantage a little over seven minutes later by working hard right in the goal crease.
JVR doing what he does best!— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 16, 2019
He redirects a shot from Gudas to put the Flyers up 2-1! pic.twitter.com/AZzvI7qWyk
JVR is having some fun against his old team 🔥— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 16, 2019
He scores his second goal of the night and the Flyers lead 3-1. pic.twitter.com/dOcUMpFgMJ
The Maple Leafs landed John Tavares in free agency last summer as van Riemsdyk departed Toronto to come back home for a Flyers reunion. Not one person would blame the Maple Leafs for focusing on reeling in Tavares (it obviously has paid off), but the hatty had to feel good for JVR in his old stomping grounds.
• Toronto came out blazing and never let up, with its offensive firepower on full display. The Maple Leafs' bevy of weapons had Brian Elliott under siege all first period, putting 19 shots on the Flyers' goalie.
Elliott quickly realized this was not the NHL-worst Senators from Monday night, when he had to make only 20 saves on 22 shots in a 3-2 victory.
Overall, Elliott finished with 44 saves on 51 shots. Blowing a 5-2 lead hurts, but he wasn't a serious problem. Toronto looked scary good. Tavares was held scoreless while Mitch Marner had just one assist, and the Maple Leafs still dropped seven on the Flyers.
• If you're a hockey fan, you loved this game, especially the second and third periods. The middle stanza featured seven goals — four from the Flyers, three from the Maple Leafs.
After JVR netted his two, defensemen Radko Gudas and Gostisbehere each lit the lamp, handing the Flyers a rather surprising three-goal lead.
RADKO STRIKES 💥 pic.twitter.com/sAfYUDskgL— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 16, 2019
GHOST IS ALL 😄😄 AFTER THAT GOAL! pic.twitter.com/6uvPZm9cTB— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) March 16, 2019
But the Flyers likely weren't going to blow out this Toronto team. Jake Muzzin made it a game by scoring two goals in the final four minutes of the second period, setting up a fun third period — and a disappointing one for the Flyers.
• The Flyers' power play has fallen back into a funk. The man advantage is 2 for its last 21 and never got anything going on a third-period opportunity when the game was 5-5.
• Now, the Flyers must travel to Pittsburgh for a Sunday night matchup with the Penguins (7:30 p.m./NBCSN).
Since the Feb. 23 Stadium Series loss to the Flyers, Pittsburgh has gone 7-1-1. The Penguins will be on the second game of a back-to-back set after playing Saturday afternoon against the Blues.
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