A playoff appearance seemed almost certain for the Toronto Maple Leafs two weeks ago. But as they teeter on the brink of their longest losing streak in more than three years, the postseason is no guarantee.
The Maple Leafs (36-30-8) had the third-best record in the Eastern Conference on March 14, but their slide has them among four teams with 80 points battling for wild-card position, though they've played at least one more game than each of those clubs.
Joffrey Lupul's goal in the first period Tuesday against St. Louis marked the first time the Maple Leafs scored first in eight games, but they were outshot 49-25 in a 5-3 defeat. Jonathan Bernier made 44 saves while making his first start since missing five games due to a groin injury.
"Certainly, we're afraid of letting it slip away," Lupul said. "The whole year we've thought we were a playoff team, and we still believe that now. ... There's reason for concern, but it's not completely time to panic. We're still right there."
James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri, who are second and third on the team in scoring, have just two points each during the skid. The Maple Leafs haven't lost seven straight since dropping eight in a row Oct. 28-Nov. 13, 2010.
"When you get in a slide like this it's easy to start pin-pointing individuals, which is fair, but as a group we look at it like, if there's a mistake made by someone, someone else steps up and makes a play for them," Lupul said. "And we just haven't been doing quite enough of that right now."
Toronto has won four of five against Philadelphia, including both meetings this season. Lupul scored in overtime of a 4-3 victory at home March 8, and a win Friday would mark the Maple Leafs' first season sweep since they took all four matchups in 2006-07.
The Flyers (38-27-7) are three points ahead of Columbus and Washington for third place in the Metropolitan Division and trail the second-place Rangers by three points. But after scoring four goals four times during a five-game winning streak, they've managed three on 63 shots in back-to-back losses.
Philadelphia missed a chance to overtake New York in a 3-1 road loss to the Rangers on Wednesday. Jakub Voracek scored for the third straight game with 1:53 remaining, and he has three goals and four assists over his last six matchups with Toronto.
"We didn't play our game. We didn't have energy. It was a weird game," said captain Claude Giroux, who was credited with his 51st assist. "We have to do a better job of getting ready. We had some big wins over good teams lately. Now we need some rest."
Philadelphia's Steve Mason is 2-3-1 with a 3.96 goals-against average over six career starts against the Maple Leafs. Bernier owns a 3.86 GAA in three games against Philadelphia, but he's 2-1-0.