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TORONTO – Nazem Kadri and the Toronto Maple Leafs view the first period as the most important 20 minutes of the game.
That worked out well against the Philadelphia Flyers, even though a poor third period nearly wrecked the game for Toronto.
The Maple Leafs blew two leads after the second intermission but managed to rebound and beat the Flyers 4-3 in overtime on Saturday night.
"It feels good," said Joffrey Lupul, who scored 2:21 into overtime. "We don't want to make a habit of blowing third-period leads. Things are going to happen, other teams are going to make plays, and we stuck with it.
"There was a good feeling on our bench going into overtime. It seemed like everyone had their composure and were calm, and we got the result we needed."
The result was the Maple Leafs' second straight overtime victory but also the fourth game in five since the Olympic break in which they squandered at least one third-period lead.
Toronto had a two-goal edge 3:38 into the first against the Flyers on goals by Jake Gardiner and Kadri, but that slipped away after Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen scored twice.
Mason Raymond's go-ahead goal later in the third was then erased when Braydon Coburn beat Jonathan Bernier with plenty of traffic in front. That was the sixth time the Leafs gave up a lead in the final period of regulation in the past five games.
Gardiner called it "a little bit of a collapse defensively," and it was hard for his teammates to disagree given this disturbing trend.
"That's a little bit of a concern, but that's not something that's drawing our complete attention," Kadri said. "Our D-zone could be a little tighter, but that's something we've got to work on."
Toronto improved to 76 points, good for third place in the Atlantic Division. They are three points ahead of the Flyers.
"That's really what we focus on. We show character to stay in games," Kadri said. "Even though it's a little bit deflating at times giving up a couple-goal leads in the third period, especially late to force overtime. We stayed positive and came out with the right outcome."
Toronto coach Randy Carlyle had his issues with his team's performance. He thought players stopped skating at the end of the second period, and several stayed on the ice for shifts that were too long.
But he was pleased how the club responded after Coburn got the Flyers even with 2:32 left.
"A lot of times when the game gets away from you, your team goes and continues to spiral," Carlyle said. "Well we didn't spiral, in my mind. Maybe if I rewatch it again I'll have a different opinion, but it didn't seem like we were under siege in the third."
Philadelphia's Steve Mason, who allowed two goals on the first four shots he faced, made 32 saves overall.
"We had an awful start," Coburn said. "We can't start hockey that way."
The Maple Leafs took advantage of shaky play from Mason and took a 1-0 lead. After Troy Bodie drove the net and put the puck on Mason, the Flyers were unable to clear it from in front.
Sneaking in from the blue line, Gardiner shot through a screen set by Frazer McLaren and ex-Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn, and past Mason at 2:21 of the first.
It took only a minute after Gardiner's goal for the Leafs to add to their lead.
Lupul skated into the offensive zone and dropped the puck to Kadri, whose wrist shot beat Mason at 3:38. It was Kadri's 17th goal, one short of his career high set in 48 games last season.
Mason stopped the next 29 shots he faced, including a highlight-reel sliding save on Phil Kessel early in the third.
"He held us in there," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "I thought he did a real good job, made some big saves. They're a good offensive team, they make plays and he came up big."
The Leafs might have caught a break early in the second period when it appeared that Matt Read scored for Philadelphia. After a quick consultation with the other officials, referee Kevin Pollock waived it off and announced that Bernier had the puck covered.
Bernier was beaten for real at 18:02 of the second. Receiving a pass from Jakub Voracek, Timonen skated to the top of the left circle and snapped a shot in. It was the Finnish Olympian's first goal in 30 career games against Toronto.
Bernier was helpless to stop the Flyers' second goal after Voracek skated behind the net and sent a pass through Toronto defenseman Tim Gleason to Timonen in front. He flipped a backhander over Bernier at 7:19 of the third to make it 2-2.
Raymond made it 3-2 at 13:34 when his shot hit the post and then the back of Mason's right pad. Bodie appeared to knock the puck in by hitting the pad, but he never touched it.
Toronto blew another third-period lead at 17:28 when Coburn's shot through traffic managed found its way past Bernier.
Lupul ended it in overtime, finishing a tic-tac-toe passing play involving Carl Gunnarsson and Dion Phaneuf.
NOTES: Forward David Clarkson was scratched for the Maple Leafs because of a pulled muscle sustained Friday in practice. D Paul Ranger was a healthy scratch as McLaren was called up so the Leafs could dress 12 forwards. ... Steve Downie was scratched for the Flyers because of the flu. Ex-Leafs forward Jay Rosehill took his place.