Raycroft is at his best

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft takes a drink of water during a break in action against ...

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft takes a drink of water during a break in action against the Philadelphia Flyers at the ACC on Monday. (Toronto Sun/Ernest Doroszuk)

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

Andrew Raycroft, by his own acknowledgement, almost is back to where he started.

Because the Maple Leafs goaltender is nestled in a similar kind of groove that led him to win the Calder Trophy in 2003-04, he was able to steal a victory last night.

Raycroft made 40 saves against the worst club in the National Hockey League as the Leafs beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 before 19,501 at the Air Canada Centre. The score wasn't indicative of the Leafs' performance -- Raycroft saved his teammates' bacon in the second period with 16 saves and then stopped all 17 shots he saw in the third, making a few large saves with Toronto up 2-1.

Raycroft and coach Paul Maurice agreed it was the 26-year-old netminder's best game in a Toronto uniform.

"I feel more and more comfortable out there, for sure," said Raycroft, who earlier yesterday was named the second star by the NHL for the previous week. "I enjoy playing as much as I can. The more I play, the better I feel, and I am less nervous. You don't really think about it. That's when I am at my best."

Nik Antropov's first goal of the season at 7:18 of the third was the winner. Late goals by Alexei Ponikarovsky and Tomas Kaberle (empty net) gave Toronto a deceiving margin.

How much has Raycroft left behind a difficult 2005-06 with the Boston Bruins after he was named the league's top rookie in the season before the lockout? He won eight games all of last year. That's how many victories he has for Toronto.

When the Leafs were ahead 2-1, and with a win not guaranteed, Raycroft stoned Peter Forsberg and Kyle Calder.

"Phenomenal," Darcy Tucker said in describing Raycroft's first-star performance. "He played well, boy, really well. He had a lot to prove from the start of the season. It's great to have a young goaltender playing well."

The Flyers, who have done little after John Stevens replaced Ken Hitchcock as coach, have three wins and seven points, both NHL lows. That did not stop them from killing off four power plays in the first period after Bates Battaglia scored.

Former Oshawa General Ben Eager scored early in the second. But as Philadelphia players buzzed around him on every shift, Raycroft stood out. At the other end, the Leafs had just three shots on Antero Niittymaki, their lowest of any period this season.

PLEASED

Maurice would not say his club was lucky to win. He chose another word to say what he felt about the victory, two nights after the Leafs handled the Buffalo Sabres.

"Pleased," Maurice said. "If you're going to critique this from a hockey viewpoint, there won't be a lot of high-fives. It was very important to win and we found a way to do it."

Another Bruins reject, Hal Gill, was a major reason the Leafs killed off all seven Flyers power plays. And Maurice hit on the right number when he reunited Antropov, Mats Sundin and Ponikarovsky to start the third. Raycroft will start in Boston against the Bruins on Thursday.

"It will be fun going in there and see some of the people who work around the rink," Raycroft said. "Bottom line is it's a divisional game and you want to get the two points."

REPORT CARD

C Forwards: Sure, they fired lotxs of shots in the direction of Antero Niittymaki, but coach Paul Maurice cares only about those on net. There should have been more.

C Defence: The Flyers had too many great chances to score. The defence corps should treat goaltender Andrew Raycroft to dinner sometime soon.

A Goaltending: Raycroft clearly is in a zone with his former club, the Boston Bruins, on the docket Thursday night in Beantown.


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