TORONTO - It's not often a team pulls its goalie in a tie game after coming from three goals down in the third period.
There's no doubting that these are desperate times for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who weren't going to let the clock strike midnight on their season without putting up one last fight. Needing wins in both games of a home-and-home series with Philadelphia, the Maple Leafs erased a three-goal deficit in the third period on Tuesday before Pavel Kubina scored 4:04 into overtime for an unlikely 4-3 win.
"We're alive," said Leafs coach Paul Maurice. "It's beating, so you keep playing."
Toronto is seven points behind the Flyers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference heading into Wednesday's rematch between the teams at Wachovia Center.
The Leafs appeared headed for a loss that would essentially have ended their playoff hopes when Daniel Briere scored 1:12 into the third period to give Philadelphia a 3-0 lead.
But goals by Mats Sundin, Kubina and Jeremy Williams tied the game and set up a wild finish.
"I liked the courage we showed and the character in coming back like that," said Sundin.
Toronto really wanted to win in regulation.
Maurice pulled goalie Vesa Toskala with more than a minute to play and the Leafs on a power play. Alex Ponikarovsky had Flyers goalie Martin Biron down and out during a late scramble but couldn't get the puck over him. Philadelphia didn't come close to scoring on the empty goal at the other end.
"He was coming out regardless," Maurice said of Toskala. "(There are) two factors, one you are aware of the potential (to score), so you ask the people around you. They are 50-50 on that.
"The down side is the puck is in your net, you lose the game and I'm standing up here not feeling so fresh."
He can attribute a large chunk of that fresh feeling to his captain.
Sundin's power-play goal at 4:48 of the third period really got the comeback started. Kubina's point shot then got through traffic and past Biron at 13:16 before Williams picked the puck up on the sideboards and tied the game with a hard wrist shot at 16:19.
"I was just trying to hit the net," said Williams.
Kubina's winning goal came when he threw the puck out from behind the net and had it go in off a stick.
Scottie Upshall, Braydon Coburn and Briere scored for Philadelphia, which probably wouldn't have even earned a point if not for the 51 saves Biron made.
The Flyers are being chased by five teams and could ill-afford the third-period collapse against Toronto.
"We just played with way too much panic in our game," said Philadelphia coach John Stevens. "You have to have the courage to play. You have to have the courage to take people on 1-on-1. You have to have the courage to play a hockey game. To go out there and play panicky like we did tonight, throwing the puck away and not moving our feet, it was ridiculous."
The Maple Leafs showed fight all night but couldn't solve Biron early on.
They outshot the Flyers 13-4 in the first period but found themselves trailing 1-0 at the end of it. Upshall opened the scoring at 13:26 after getting behind Leafs defenceman Anton Stralman and taking a nice cross-ice pass from Vaclav Prospal. It was the seventh straight game the Maple Leafs allowed the first goal.
The second period was even more frustrating. Toronto threw all it had at Biron but couldn't beat him with any of its 17 shots. The Flyers goalie turned away Williams with a sprawling pad save on a partial breakaway and got across his crease to stop Jason Blake from point blank a few minutes later.
"We must have doubled their chances tonight if you look at the whole game," said Sundin. "Biron played great for them in net. He really, to me, got them a point tonight. He was the difference."
There were good stops on Kubina and Ponikarovsky, too, before Coburn quieted the sellout crowd of 19,507 at Air Canada Centre.
He floated a point shot over a screened Toskala with 54.8 seconds to play in the second period while on a power play.
That gave Philadelphia a 2-0 lead at the second intermission and signalled bad things for the home team - the Flyers entered the game with a record of 25-1-1 when leading after 40 minutes.
Despite that, they couldn't keep Toronto from coming back.
"They kept putting pressure on us, kept taking chances, and it paid off for them at a key time in the game," said Biron. "That pressure made it hard for us to do a lot of the little things."
Notes: Sundin has 16 points (8-8) in his last nine games ... The captain now has 77 points on the season - giving him one more than he scored last year ... Toskala made 22 saves in his 22nd straight start ... Leafs forward Kyle Wellwood has gone 14 games without scoring a goal ... Antero Niittymaki made 54 saves in goal for the Flyers during a win in Toronto on Jan. 5.