Defense, not offense, is Philadelphia’s problem now

VOORHEES, N.J. (AP)—The Philadelphia Flyers entered the playoffs worried about scoring goals. After one game, they’re more concerned about preventing them.

The Toronto Maple Leafs scored five times, including an empty-net goal, on just 15 shots Wednesday in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals series.

The Flyers realize they can’t allow the Leafs to convert as often on so few chances in Game 2 of the best-of-seven series Friday night.

“We gave up too many odd-man rushes, we made unnecessary errors,” Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said after practice Thursday. “We scored enough goals. Problem was, we gave up too many easy opportunities.”

In last year’s first-round loss to Ottawa, the Flyers scored a record-low two goals in five games. They got two goals 62 seconds apart in the second period against Toronto, and outshot the Leafs 31-15.

But Philadelphia lost because of loose play and shaky defense, uncharacteristic of the way the team played throughout the regular season.

The Flyers built their success this season—they finished with 107 points— around solid defense. But they committed too many defensive lapses in the opener, and goaltender Roman Cechmanek couldn’t overcome the mistakes.

“Scoring goals wasn’t the problem,” forward Justin Williams said. “We need to protect our goalie.”

While the Flyers held an intense practice session Thursday, the Leafs were just trying to figure out who they’ll have available for Game 2.

Center Nik Antropov broke a bone in his right foot in the second period of the opener, and will be out indefinitely. Forward Darcy Tucker hyperextended his left knee and is doubtful for Friday.

Centers Doug Gilmour (knee) and Travis Green (ribs) and defenseman Glen Wesley (ankle) missed Game 1.

“I’ve never seen injuries like this. It’s unbelievable,” Leafs forward Owen Nolan said. “I guess when you have a team that plays the style we do, injuries are going to happen. But we’re losing guys for three or four weeks. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Toronto’s main focus in Game 2 will be to reduce their penalties. The most-penalized team in the NHL in the regular season, the Leafs allowed the Flyers six power-play opportunities.

Alexander Mogilny scored a short-handed goal on the same power play in which Eric Weinrich scored for Philadelphia. The Flyers finished 1-for-6 with the man-advantage.

“We needed to stay out of the penalty box. We didn’t do a very good job of that in the early part of the game,” Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. “I want them to hit, but I don’t want them to be so zealous that we attract attention when we don’t need to.

“There’s a tendency to smack someone real quick and we have to be in control of that. Be strong and be tough, but take your lumps and wait for your chance to give them back.”

Toronto, which has won four consecutive opening-round series, now has the home-ice advantage. The Leafs can head back to Toronto with a stranglehold on the series if they win Game 2.

“There’s no game you can go into and say, ‘It doesn’t matter if you lose this one’ because that’ll take its toll over the series,” Nolan said. “You want to try and get the sweep if that’s possible. You want to play hard with that intensity so you can get rested for the next series.”

The Flyers, first-round losers in four of the last five years, are desperate to advance. But they need to get one win first.

“You can talk all you want to. We need to go out and win a series,” center Jeremy Roenick said. “Until we win a series or win the next game, everyone is going to take what we say and throw it out the window.”

Though most of the goals weren’t his fault, Cechmanek must play better to give the Flyers a chance to win the series. He gave up four goals on the first 13 shots he faced. Cechmanek is 92-43-22 in the regular season, but just 3-8 in the playoffs.

“He felt he should’ve played better. He recognizes that,” Hitchcock said.

The Flyers also need to get better production from Roenick, Tony Amonte, John LeClair, Mark Recchi and Keith Primeau. Amonte, Roenick and LeClair were minus-2, and Recchi and Primeau were minus-1 in the opener.

“This is when you need your best players to play better than the other team’s best players,” Hitchcock said.

Roenick agreed to a certain degree.

“Our best players have a lot to do with our success, but we need a full team effort,” he said.

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