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Esche Stops 40 in 5-2 Flyers Win Over Carolina

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers
(Raleigh, NC, December 31) – Alexei Zhitnik broke a tie late in the second period and the Flyers added three more in the third, as Philadelphia defeated the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center on Sunday night, 5-2.

With the game tied 1-1, Philadelphia was forced to kill a delay of game penalty to Robert Esche at 17:22. It did, and Zhitnik's blast from the high slot on a pass from Peter Forsberg found the back of the net while Forsberg was screening goaltender Cam Ward with 12.9 seconds left in the second period. The goal gave the Flyers the lead for good.

The Flyers increased their advantage in the third. Ben Eager chipped the puck into the Carolina zone, where it took a funny bounce in the corner to the stick of Todd Fedoruk. Fedoruk quickly centered to Ryan Potulny who knocked it in with Ward out of position at 4:58.

Kyle Calder's breakaway goal gave Philadelphia a three-goal cushion at 6:23.

Esche allowed a goal by Ray Whitney, his second of the game at 8:14, but was outstanding in net for the second straight contest. He stopped Whitney with his shoulder after a turnover by R.J. Umberger in the Flyers zone and then dove on top of the loose puck with his glove to freeze play with the Flyers holding a 4-2 lead.

Esche finished with 40 saves to record the victory.

"He stood tall, and I thought in the third period there he made a couple of really opportune saves, kept the game where it was and allowed us to build on the lead," said John Stevens of his goaltender. "He's been one of our best players in the last two games, there's no question."

Stevens was also happy with Calder, who kept up his recent solid play.

"He certainly seems like he's coming on," said Stevens. "His confidence is building and his work ethic has been at a really high level, and he's starting to have success because of it."

"Things are going well right now. It was a slump at the start of the year, and it was a big slump, but we just have to keep working hard and that's what I've been doing the whole time," said Calder.

Mike Knuble scored an empty-net power play goal with 48.8 seconds left to seal the Flyers' second straight win.

Forsberg registered his second consecutive three assist game.

A penalty-free first period ended with the Flyers holding a 1-0 lead courtesy of Forsberg and Simon Gagne.

Forsberg controlled the puck behind the net, and as he was falling to the ice, found Gagne whose laser shot got through Ward at 18:37. The puck was in and out of the net so fast that the goal judge never turned on the light and it had to be reviewed to be verified.

With the goal, Gagne became a 20-goal scorer for the sixth time in seven NHL seasons.

Philadelphia had a goal waved off just seconds earlier, when Knuble batted his own deflected pass out of mid-air, but it was ruled to be knocked in with a high stick.

Esche did his best to keep Carolina off the board in the second period, including a sprawling glove save on Scott Walker on a two-on-one rush, but the Hurricanes tied the game as they registered the first 13 shots on goal in the frame and 18 of the 21 overall. It came when Eric Belanger sent a pass through the slot to Whitney who flipped it in at 11:11.

The physical play also picked up in the second, as Derian Hatcher was whistled for a roughing call on Rod Brind'amour who was crowding the goal crease, and Eager sent Cory Stillman flying with a hard open-ice check in Philadelphia's defensive zone.

There was also an altercation with less than a minute left in the game, when Hatcher cross-checked Justin Williams in the corner after the whistle when Williams hit the newest Flyer, Dmitry Afanasenkov, with a high elbow to the head.

Esche said after the game that he senses the team starting to come together.

"One thing that's easy to feed off, from the forwards on down to me, is the enthusiasm and willingness to work," he said. "We have players in here that are capable of a lot more, and that really only comes from hard work. I think in the last three games we've shown that, even though we lost in Florida."

The Flyers return home for a skate at the Virtua Health Flyers Skate Zone at noon on Sunday, before continuing the trip with a game at the New York Islanders on January 2 (7:30 p.m., CW-57, 610 WIP).

Sami Kapanen left the game after the first period and did not return due to an upper body injury. … Eric Meloche and Stefan Ruzicka were the scratches for Philadelphia. Antero Niittymaki remained out with a left hip strain. … The Flyers improved to 3-8-0 against the Southwest Division. … Philadelphia and Carolina meet twice more this season: February 22 at the RBC Center and March 28 at the Wachovia Center. … Knuble's goal was the 150th of his career. … The Flyers are 4-1-2 in their last seven games in Carolina.
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