PHILADELPHIA — Cool temperatures for early October and an omnipresent black-and-orange color scheme provided an end-of-the-month feeling as the Philadelphia Flyers came back to haunt the Wachovia Spectrum one last time.
The Flyers hosted the Carolina Hurricanes here Sept. 27, but that was the last Spectrum game between two NHL teams — and it drew an overflow response from the Flyers' charged-up fan base. So the smart marketing people in the Comcast-Spectacor brain trust created another game, between the parent NHL club and its American Hockey League affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms.
A sellout crowd of 17,077 watched as the minor-league Phantoms skated to a 4-2 victory over the parent club.
The Flyers last played an NHL game here in 1996, moving across the street to the Wachovia Center while the Phantoms have made the Spectrum home in recent years. Both teams won championships on this ice. The Flyers defeated the Boston Bruins 1-0 in Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Final. The Phantoms won their first Calder Cup here in 1998. They won the 2005 Calder Cup at the Wachovia Center with a team that included current Flyers Mike Richards, Randy Jones, Riley Cote, Jeff Carter, and goalie Antero Niittymaki, the MVP of those playoffs.
The coach of the 2005 team and captain of the 1998 Phantoms, John Stevens, is in his third season as Flyers' coach. Richards was recently named Flyers' captain. Boyd Kane, the captain of that Phantoms team, is the captain of the current Phantoms team. Kane had the rare distinction of captaining the next Calder Cup winner, the 2006 Hershey Bears, before returning to Philadelphia last season.
The Phantoms played a ringer — Niittymaki, now the Flyers' backup goalie, who was making his first start since returning from surgery. Although the game at times resembled a no-contact scrimmage between the varsity and the JVs, which it was, the Flyers made sure Niittymaki saw quality NHL shooting.
"I thought 'Nitty' played great," Stevens said. "His strength has always been his lateral mobility and tonight he was strong in the net."
He looked good against Danny Briere's shot from 15 feet in the slot at 12:32 of the first period and again soon after on a rebound try by Mike Knuble. He stole a goal off Knuble's stick at 6:10 of the second period when he was down on his back in his crease and appeared to use his blocker to deflect the point-blank shot wide of the net.
Briere won a behind-the-net battle on Niittymaki's right side and fired a pass in front of the crease that Simon Gagne one-timed for a goal from 20 feet. Mike Richards' hard work down low helped set up the goal at 12:11 of the middle period.
Marty Biron was perfect on seven first-period shots, none very tough, but fell victim to the Flyers' defense's inability to clear a loose puck after Sean Curry's shot from the point. Jared Ross shoveled the puck into the net at 17:12 after he and Patrick Maroon both had swipes at it.
The Phantoms applied sustained pressure against the line of Richards, Briere and Gagne and scored on Maroon's tap-in of a rebound of Nate Guenin's point shot at 9:07 of the third period to make it 2-1. Jeff Szwez got a piece of the rebound, deflecting it to Maroon, the leading scorer last year with the London Knights and one of the hardest-working Phantoms.
The Phantoms again applied sustained pressure before Claude Giroux, the Flyers' No. 1 draft pick in 2006, tapped in a short pass through the crease from Jonathan Matsumoto, a third-rounder two years ago, at 14:11. Giroux did the heavy lifting on the play, breaking up an outlet pass at the blue line with his back to the play. He flipped it to Matsumoto on the left boards and the former Bowling Green star forced the play to the net while Giroux looped around to get in position.
The Flyers came right back with a goal from Scottie Upshall at 15:08 to make it 3-2 but the Phantoms, clearly the crowd favorites this night, held the edge in play thereafter. The Flyers brought their fans to their feet with 43.7 seconds left when it appeared Jeff Carter scored but referee Ryan Fraser, son of longtime NHL referee Kerry Fraser, ruled that Carter knocked the puck into the net with his arm.
The Phantoms made it 4-2 when Andreas Nodl outraced Kimmo Timonen to a loose puck and tapped in an empty-netter with 18 seconds left.
The Flyers got bad news on Monday when they found out young defenseman Ryan Parent will miss the next 14 weeks after shoulder surgery. The Flyers signed Luca Sbisa, their first-round pick this summer, and Sbisa played with the cool that he has displayed throughout training camp.