(Philadelphia, PA) – Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Vaclav Prospal all scored goals as the Philadelphia Flyers captured an important victory over the Atlanta Thrashers at the Wachovia Center on Tuesday night, 3-2.
The win keeps Philadelphia in the eighth position in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers are two points ahead of the Washington Capitals, who beat Nashville on Tuesday night, and three up on the Buffalo Sabres.
Prospal increased the Flyers’ lead to 3-1 when he lifted in a pass from Danny Briere on a two-on-one rush at 8:07 of the third period.
It was a goal Philadelphia would need, as nothing has come easy for the Flyers lately. Philadelphia outshot the Thrashers 47-19, but could almost be considered lucky to get out of the game with a regulation win.
Ilya Kovalchuk made it 3-2 when his wrist shot from the slot beat Antero Niittymaki with 29.9 seconds showing on the clock and the goaltender pulled for his 50th goal of the season. Then, in the final five seconds, Kovalchuk found himself open again in the slot. He blasted a one-timer that was kicked aside by Niittymaki, and then looked to the sky in disbelief after barely missing what would have been the game-tying goal as the sellout crowd breathed a sigh of relief.
”I think it surprised everybody,” said Niittymaki, who finished with 17 saves. “I did not have time to think, I just reacted. It’s a good feeling.”
“It’s just an unbelievable save,” said coach John Stevens. “It’s unfortunate he had to make that save at that point. We have not done things easy lately, and we needed a play like that to get back on track.”
It was the Flyers’ 10th straight win over the Thrashers, including all four games between the two clubs this season. Niittymaki improved to 9-0 in his career against Atlanta, and got his 10th victory of the season.
With the game tied 1-1 after the first, the Flyers poured 20 shots on Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen, finally scoring on the 20th.
Kimmo Timonen blasted a slap shot from the top of the zone with Philadelphia on the power play, and it was deflected nicely by Carter at 19:57 to give the Flyers the lead at the break.
Carter had six of the 20 shots in the second period, and finished with a game-high 10.
The Flyers trailed early but tied the game at the seven-minute mark of the first period. Richards found a loose puck at the side of the net and scored on an out of place Lehtonen, who had just stopped Joffrey Lupul’s shot from the circle.
Atlanta took the lead just 58 seconds into the game when Chris Thorburn centered the puck and it directed inside the far post off of Timonen’s skate.
While a goal like that would have gotten the Flyers down mentally in previous games, they kept their heads up, said Stevens.
“The emotion on the bench was terrific. Guys like Jimmy Dowd, (Jason Smith), Kimmo, they all said just keep playing,” said Stevens. “It’s not going to bother us tonight, and just keep going.”
“We kept going and everyone was on the game plan tonight,” added Carter. “We knew what these two points meant, and we needed to have them.”
The Flyers snapped a four-game winless streak, and have earned at least a point in the standings in 11 of their last 15 games (6-4-5).
The game was the first of three straight at the Wachovia Center for Philadelphia. The Flyers host the New York Rangers on Friday night and the New York Islanders on Sunday night. Both games are at 7:00 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.
All eight of the Flyers’ remaining games are against Atlantic Division opponents.
“We just have to make sure that we win our games, and that way nobody can catch us,” said Prospal.
Lupul assisted on the first two goals. … Their 47 shots was a season high for Philadelphia. … The Flyers are 26-1-3 when leading after two periods. … Philadelphia is 15-8-3 when outshooting its opponent. … The Flyers are 13-4-3 against the Southeast Division. … Philadelphia is 25-3-3 all-time against Atlanta, including a 12-1-3 mark at home. … Scottie Upshall returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
- - -
1 - 0 ATL
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 PHI
3 - 1 PHI
3 - 2 PHI