Philadelphia, PA – In their most important and final home game of the season so far, the Philadelphia Flyers dominated the New York Rangers from start to finish in recording a 4-1 victory Saturday afternoon at the Wachovia Center.
The victory brings the Flyers to within a point of the first place Rangers for the Atlantic Division title. Philadelphia has one game in hand, and will win the division with victories in its final two games of the season; Sunday in New Jersey (1:00 p.m., CSN) and Tuesday night on Long Island (7:00 p.m., UPN). The Flyers moved two points ahead of idle New Jersey.
"Right off the bat we came out hard and played really solid today," said Peter Forsberg. "We're one point behind [the Rangers] and we have one more game. So it looks pretty good."
Leading 1-0, Jeff Carter set up a pair of goals as the Flyers took a commanding lead.
First, Niko Dimitrakos increased his point-scoring streak to five games when he lifted in a backhanded feed from Carter on an odd-man rush at 18:09 of the first period. Carter froze defenseman Tom Poti by faking a shot and getting him out of position before sliding the puck to Dimitrakos.
Dimitrakos, acquired from San Jose at the trading deadline, has two goals and three assists in his last five games.
"We felt like we needed to give Niko Dimitrakos a big part of our hockey club," said Ken Hitchcock. "When we made the decision to put him [on Carter's line], we felt like it was a terrific opportunity for him and we hoped that he would take advantage of it. What Dimitrakos brings to the line is that he is really calm with the puck and he allows Carter and [R.J.] Umberger to get open."
It was Carter again setting up the third goal at 5:44 of the second period, again going around Poti, but this time feeding Umberger for an easy goal for the rookie.
"It seems like we have a little everything on our line: speed, [Carter's] shot, his ability to skate with the puck, hard work. We just seemed to gel and it's been that way since day one when we put together the line," said Umberger. "It doesn't hurt when you're good friends off the ice. The three of us are pretty good friends. When Niko came it just seemed like we clicked off-ice right away."
"The way things are going right now, we're putting the puck in the net and playing pretty well overall," said Carter. "If we can take pressure off of [the Forsberg line] and give them a little more space to go out and do their thing, it's definitely a good thing."
Philadelphia kept pouring on the offense, as Petr Nedved tallied on a give-and-go with Michal Handzus from the slot midway through the period to make it 4-0.
Antero Niittymaki allowed a power play goal to Marian Hossa at 11:38 to make it a 4-1 game, but stopped a breakaway by Petr Sykora with 2:20 left in the frame as the Flyers went to the locker room with a three-goal cushion.
Tempers flared a bit in the third period, when New York's Ryan Hollweg came in on a check high on Forsberg. Mike Knuble hit Hollweg and Simon Gagne also came charging in for the scrum in the corner. Philadelphia picked up the extra minor on the play but killed it off.
Later, Forsberg was called for charging after Hollweg at 12:06, but just missed hitting the scoring-impaired New Yorker cleanly behind the Philadelphia net. Once again, Philadelphia's penalty killing unit prevented a goal.
Both teams finished 1-for-6 on the power play.
Hitchcock, who stressed after Friday's practice that the Flyers need to get off to strong starts in order to be successful, got just what he wanted as Philadelphia outshot New York 15-3 over the first 20 minutes in taking the lead.
Forsberg, who missed the last four games with a groin injury, made his presence felt early when he set up Knuble for a power play goal at 8:09. Forsberg sent a pass through defenseman Fedor Tyutin in the crease and Knuble was in front on the other side to knock it in.
Niittymaki made 25 saves to pick up the win while Kevin Weekes stopped 25 Flyers shots in a losing effort.
Philadelphia and New York split their eight-game season series.
FLYERS NOTES Freddy Meyer posted two assists and has five in his last three games. … Robert Esche, originally scheduled to start the game, was out with the flu. He is due to start on Sunday in New Jersey … Rangers starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist remains out with a groin injury. … The Flyers announced they set a new single-season attendance record with 805,703 fans. … Knuble has scored the first goal of the game 11 times this season.