SPORTS

Strong month, Bruins' losing combined to get Flyers into playoff race

02/25/2015 04:51 EST | Updated 04/27/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - The reports of the death of the Philadelphia Flyers' playoff hopes, as it turns out, were greatly exaggerated.

An 8-2-4 run in the past month and the Boston Bruins' struggles combined to put the Flyers within four points of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference going into their game Thursday at the Toronto Maple Leafs. The climb hasn't been easy, but there's no shortage of belief in the locker-room.

"It's obviously our goal to catch the Bruins and the Panthers," NHL leading scorer Jake Voracek said Wednesday. "I don't see the reason why we shouldn't. We're playing good hockey lately. We've got to focus on every game, game-by-game, and hopefully we're going to sneak in."

On the morning of Jan. 17, the Flyers woke up in Buffalo 13 points back of the Bruins. Boston has gone 5-7-3 since then, and a knee injury to centre David Krejci stands to make the next four to six weeks even more of a challenge.

Philadelphia needed the Bruins to go on a skid to make the playoffs even a long-shot possibility. But the Flyers have also been much improved to get on track.

"An all-around team game turned our season around," coach Craig Berube said. "Our team defence first and foremost is what we really turned around. Starting with that, and the penalty killing has gotten better. That's part of the team defence. All-around, our defensive play is way better."

Winger Wayne Simmonds said the difference was playing a more simple brand of hockey. That abandoned the Flyers in a 4-1 loss to the lowly Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, a trend that can't continue to stay alive in the race.

"To be a good team we've got to focus on playing the defensive side of the puck," said Simmonds, who has a team-best eight goals and six assists during this run. "It doesn't matter what team you're playing against, every team in this league can score goals. You can get beat on any given night, and I think the most important thing is for us to be defensively responsible and we get offensive opportunities from that."

While Voracek, who's tied for the league lead in scoring with 64 points, and captain Claude Giroux shouldered the load for much of the season, the Flyers hope to have another key piece back by this weekend. Defenceman Kimmo Timonen is close to making his season debut after being held out with blood clots in his leg and lungs.

The 39-year-old said he's "getting there" and could play as early as Saturday against the New York Rangers. Voracek expects Timonen to make a huge impact.

"He's going to help us a lot," Voracek said. "His leadership, I think that's what we were missing in the beginning of the year."

Notes — Newmarket, Ont., native Rob Zepp is expected to start Thursday against the Leafs with Steve Mason backing up. ... Berube said centre Sean Couturier and defenceman Michael Del Zotto would play against Toronto despite missing Wednesday's practice for maintenance.

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