Their hands reaching out of quicksand, the Flyers needed someone, anyone, to come to the rescue before they sank deeper into a grim slump.
No excuses would be available. Coach John Stevens had given the players three days off so they could recharge their batteries and take their minds off the bad habits that had crept into their defensive game. Toronto had played the night before.
It turned out no excuses were necessary. The Flyers defended effectively in front of goalie Martin Biron, and Joffrey Lupul tossed his teammates a rope to save them.
Lupul scored two goals, and Jeff Carter and Danny Briere also scored in a 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs last night at the Wachovia Center.
The victory ended a six-game losing streak overall and a four-game losing streak at home.
"There's no question to win a game at home with a stretch of road games coming up, it was a very important game for our team to win," Stevens said.
Lupul's big night continued a personal trend. He has nine goals in his last eight games and 15 for the season. He continues to make general manager Paul Holmgren's deal that pried him from Edmonton look like a smart one.
Lupul's goals gave the Flyers breathing room. He made it 2-0 on a power play late in the second period and 4-1 with 12 minutes, 4 seconds remaining in the third.
"I feel I'm playing hard. I'm going to the net," said Lupul, acquired from the Oilers in July with captain Jason Smith for Joni Pitkanen, Geoff Sanderson, and a draft choice. "I made two good shots, and I feel if I keep getting those opportunities in the slot like that, I can score."
Carter's goal ended a scoreless tie after he and Scott Hartnell broke free from the traffic jams the Leafs caused during much of the first period. Hartnell sailed down the left wing, chased down the puck, and whipped a perfect pass toward the crease. Carter had a step on Toronto defenseman Pavel Kubina and jammed the puck past goalie Andrew Raycroft with 35 seconds remaining in the opening period.
Until Carter netted his 13th goal, scoring opportunities were infrequent for the Flyers, who went into the game with a defensive mind-set after allowing 26 goals during their losing streak.
"We talked about our play in the defensive zone," said Biron, who made 34 saves. "I think it was tremendous, as well as we've played all year defensively, and it created offense for us."
Lupul got a friendly carom off Toronto's Alexander Steen to help set up his power-play goal that made it 2-0. He fired a shot that went under Raycroft's leg with 2:37 to go in the second period. It was the ninth consecutive game the Flyers had scored on the power play.
The Flyers' penalty-killing units have struggled this month, and it appeared that they had found a solution to the problem - stay out of the penalty box. It was working just fine until Scottie Upshall was whistled for hooking. Mats Sundin made the Flyers pay by rifling a high shot over Biron's stick side to cut the Leafs' deficit to 2-1 with 27 seconds left in the second period. It was the ninth time this season that the Flyers had allowed a goal in the final minute of a period, not including empty-net goals.
"Another goal we gave up late in a period, which is something we are trying to avoid," Stevens said. "You have Sundin shooting the puck. He has a world-class shot."
The Flyers went into the game with a lowly 78.6 penalty-kill percentage in December and were ranked 21st in the league for the season. They killed the Leafs' two other power plays.
The Flyers caught a break when Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala was unable to play because of tightness in his groin. The Finn has been the Leafs' most effective goalie with a 2.62 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. Raycroft was making his second start in two nights, which was also his second start since Nov. 24.
With the Flyers in a losing streak and facing a six-game trip that begins tomorrow at Tampa Bay, the importance of last night's game was magnified. They are 9-9 on the road, with three consecutive losses.
"After a while, you forget what it's like to win," Briere said. "It tastes a lot better than losing, especially the way we were finding ways to lose."
Before the face-off, there was a moment of silence for Stu Nahan, the Flyers' play-by-play announcer during their inaugural season of 1967-68. He died of cancer Wednesday in Los Angeles. . . . Mike Richards' assist on Lupul's second goal extended his scoring streak to 16 successive home games, equaling a mark set by Bobby Clarke in 1976. . . . Defenseman Randy Jones returned to the lineup after missing a game with a sprained knee.