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GAME: Philadelphia Flyers (29-12-11-5) at New York Rangers (21-24-7-4).
TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
The NHL has not seemed too tough for rookie goaltender Antero Niittymaki thus far. He'll get to watch his first game from the bench when the Philadlephia Flyers visit the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Recalled from the minors to help fill in for a pair of injured goalies, the 23-year-old Niittymaki won his first three NHL starts, yielding just three goals in the process.
Niittymaki, 23, was playing with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL when Jeff Hackett (vertigo) and Robert Esche (knee) went down for the Flyers. Unexpectedly forced into action, Niittymaki hasn't blinked at the pressure of starting in the NHL.
On Tuesday, he outplayed New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, making 35 saves as the Flyers beat the defending Stanley Cup champions 4-1, increasing their lead in the Atlantic Division to seven points over the Devils.
Despite his fast start, Niittymaki's playing time will likely decrease because Philadelphia acquired veteran goalie Sean Burke from Phoenix on Monday to step in until Esche returns from his knee injury. Burke will start against the Rangers on Thursday, and Esche appears to be closer to returning than originally expected.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Niittymaki said. "It's been fun."
The rookie's efforts have not gone unnoticed by Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock, who indicated that Niittymaki will see more action before being sent down.
"What this is telling us and the world is that the future of goaltending is very good in Philadelphia," Hitchcock said.
Burke has also picked up on the rookie's fast start.
"He's done a great job and made a great impression, and worked extremely hard in the couple days that I've been here," Burke said. "I know he's pretty confident right now and that's great. We need all of the wins we can get, however we do it or whoever does it."
The Flyers have won seven of their last nine games (7-1-1).
The Rangers picked up a big win in their return from the All-Star break Wednesday, beating the rival Devils 3-1. New York, which hadn't posted a regulation win over New Jersey in nearly three years, got 28 saves from Mike Dunham for its second win in three games.
Dunham, battling to keep his job in a season where the Rangers are trying to avoid a seventh straight non-playoff finish, was at his best in the final two periods, when the Devils outshot New York 22-7.