Maple Leafs flatten out again against Flyers, but get by with bursts of brilliance

PHILADELPHIA – They can’t all be classics.

Toronto Maple Leafs landed in Philadelphia, crashed by an emotional surge. In an electrifying week, they convincingly defeated two division opponents (Boston and Florida), then celebrated super sniper Auston Matthews on home ice and exacted revenge on the Winnipeg Jets.

Would they be able to attack the Low Flyers with the same vigor, knowing that their first benchmark trip to Florida was right around the corner?

“Things didn’t go so well for us in these types of games against these types of opponents,” admitted coach Sheldon Keefe before the game. “We expect them to play a good game with a lot of energy and our lads have to be ready to play like we’ve done in the last couple of games.”

Keefe tried to capitalize on Jack Campbell’s long-awaited return and promise Nick Abruzzese’s debut as motivation, but his players fared flat against another lottery-bound opponent.

Former Flyer Wayne Simmonds threw Philly tough guy Zack MacEwen into a fight (which was rejected by the linesmen to the loud displeasure of the crowd) to breathe some life into a listless bench.

“I was just trying to cheer for the boys. I didn’t think we played too well,” Simmonds explained.

But the Maple Leafs needed a little luck before they got good, blasting out of town with a 6-3 comeback win and two more points in the vault despite a 20-minute effort.

“Yeah, it wasn’t a great hockey game of ours,” Keefe said. “We know what our team can do. Maybe this is the problem: [The players] know what they are capable of.”

After a scoreless, low-energy first period, Kevin Hayes appeared at the door and put the Flyers first on the board.

It took Toronto a full 69 seconds to get back into a game it didn’t have to lead.

Simmonds accepted a beautiful stretch pass from TJ Brodie and beat Carter Hart one-for-one with a whistled Deke, putting him on a 32-game goal drought.

“Black man [Colin Blackwell] tells me, ‘This is the ugliest escape move I’ve ever seen.’ And I don’t think he’s wrong.”

Then defenseman Timothy Liljegren wired a wide-shot point that bounced off the endboards and pinched him from Hart’s instep as the keeper tried to slide to his post. whoops

Ivan Provorov ended the contest with a swipe from the slot, one of the few pucks that could fool a selected Campbell.

“It’s fun to get in there and go back to just stopping pucks and having fun,” Campbell smiled. “I definitely felt like myself.”

Keefe agreed, “He just looked like Jack. I thought it was great how he played today. Especially the first period. The first 10 minutes or so was a disaster from us in front of him.

“His job is to be there when things break down — and they sure did break down.”

When the Maple Leafs suddenly woke up and pressed hard in the third period, they put Hart in his own net and Auston Matthews scored his 51st goal to regain the lead.

Pierre Engvall held and flicked in a 2-for-1 shorthanded to give the Maple Leafs 12 shorties in the league during the season.

Provorov struck again to close the gap, but Morgan Rielly responded for the Leafs. John Tavares also heated up the party, beating Hart’s rush clean.

An explosive four-goal frame that reinforces the notion that the Leafs can survive with brilliant outbursts and don’t necessarily have to turn full 60 to shoot past a weak team.

The only thing that pleased the coach about the “disappointing” performance, however, was the fact that Campbell appeared calm and easygoing.

“We didn’t play the game we wanted to play all night. In the third half we scored a goal in time and that ultimately made the difference in the game,” said Simmonds, a realist.

“But ideally we don’t want to repeat a performance like that.”

The Maple Leafs’ road trip now heads south to Tampa Bay, where the forecast is a 100 percent chance of better hockey.

They will have no opponent to downplay.

Fox’s Fast Five

• Hayes, a close friend of Keith Yandle, on the ending of the Ironman series: “I can’t agree with that.”

Hayes said the scratch was on the players. Had the team performed better, it would be in the playoff hunt and management wouldn’t feel the need to sign college players and look ahead.

But Hayes, visibly troubled, also acknowledged that the end of Yandle’s streak “was a big deal,” citing Phil Kessel: “I know someone’s right behind him.”

• With the Maple Leafs keen to gain momentum in the first 30 minutes, Keefe blew up in Period 2 with his top 9. Ilya Mikheyev-John Tavares-Mitch Marner looks irresistible.

• For the first time in four and a half years, the 76ers played a matinee on the same day as a night game of the Flyers. (Apparently former coach Alain Vigneault was a fan of the daily slot.)

As a result, the Leafs were thrown out of their routine and denied access to the Wells Fargo Center for their morning skate and meet.

“We went into the building and they still had part of the court below,” Simmonds said.

• Another rare sight: dueling rookie rounds. Two NCAA recruits, Toronto’s Abruzzese and Philadelphia’s Ronnie Attard, made their NHL debuts on Saturday.

Abruzzese admitted to being nervous and had his parents and sister in town to see his dream come true. “It’s not fully submerged yet,” Abruzzese said.

Attard’s debut ended Yandle’s 989-game Ironman streak.

• Very cool pregame scene: Saw a social Simmonds meeting up with a longtime Flyers employee in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center. The gentleman pulled out his smartphone and FaceTimed his wife so Simmonds could visit her too.

“I spent eight years here,” said Simmonds, who ended up getting his fight. “So I had fun tonight.” Maple Leafs flatten out again against Flyers, but get by with bursts of brilliance

Matthew Hallett

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