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Flyers Defeat Panthers, 3-2 in Shootout

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers
Sunrise, FL – Michal Handzus scored the only goal in the shootout and Ben Eager's first two professional goals were the Flyers' only scores in regulation, as Philadelphia defeated the Florida Panthers at the Bank Atlantic Center, 3-2.

After Mike Richards, Peter Forsberg and Simon Gagne all failed on their shootout attempts, Handzus backhanded the puck over a fallen Roberto Luongo for a goal.

"I was thinking to shoot, but he didn't show me anything. I kind of waited and waited, and then I made a move to go up," said Handzus.

Jozef Stumpel had a chance to keep the shootout going for Florida and had Antero Niittymaki beat, but lost control of the puck at the last second as the Flyers improved to 2-0 on their 11-game road trip.

Niittymaki stopped all four of Florida's shootout attempts.

"I was pretty confident," said Niittymaki. "I was a little worried with two days off, but I felt pretty good."

The win, coupled with a slumping New York Rangers loss to Ottawa, gives the Flyers a three-point lead for first place in the Atlantic Division.

"I thought we got our legs in the third period and did some of the things that we wanted to," said Ken Hitchcock. "I thought we were lethargic in the first two with the travel and everything that went on. I thought in the third period some of the young guys really gave us a big lift. Niittymaki was good and so was Luongo, but I thought those young guys really gave us a lift and did a great job. Eager scored two and could have had three, and [Jeff] Carter gave us some big shifts in the third period when we needed it."

Philadelphia has won four straight on the road and seven of eight overall away from the Wachovia Center.

The third period began with the game tied at 1-1. Florida took the lead at 4:31, when Olli Jokinen skated the puck from behind the net and passed through the crease to Chris Gratton, who easily tipped it in for just his third goal all season in 33 games.

Philadelphia tied it when a blast by Carter rebounded right to Eager for an easy redirection for his second goal of the game and second of his career.

That would be all for scoring in regulation, despite more power plays at the end of the third period. Sean Hill was called for boarding R.J. Umberger with 2:18 left, and the Flyers controlled the puck in the Florida zone for over minute before Freddy Meyer was whistled for interference. Yet another penalty, this one to Jokinen at 19:58, sent the game to overtime and a rare three-on-three situation at the beginning of the extra session before Philadelphia had to kill off its penalties.

After some clutch saves by Niittymaki the Flyers had two great chances to win before the shootout, but Meyer's blast from the faceoff circle was snuffed by Luongo and then the Panthers' goaltender stopped an attempt by Forsberg on a three-on-one odd-man rush in the closing seconds.

Florida opened the scoring at 5:16 of the second period on an unfortunate bounce for the Flyers. Seconds after a penalty to Derian Hatcher expired, Mike Van Ryn threw the puck on net and it went off of defenseman Mike Rathje's stick and deflected past Niittymaki.

A flurry of penalties following Van Ryn's goal gave both teams some great chances to score. Meyer was called for tripping at 6:01 and Kim Johnsson was ordered to the box for a cross-check just 18 seconds later to give the Panthers ample time on a two-man advantage. The trio of Hatcher, Rathje and Handzus prevented Florida from increasing its lead, staying out on the ice for the entire kill.

Philadelphia also went to work on its power play getting a two-man advantage of its own after penalties to Hill at 9:26 and Gregory Campbell at 10:43, but Mike Knuble was whistled for interference just 10 seconds after Campbell's penalty with the Flyers setting up in the Florida zone.

It looked for sure like the Flyers would go to the locker room at the second intermission without a goal, when Gagne missed an open net on a backhand cutting to the slot with a minute and a half left on a feed from Forsberg, but Eager's first professional goal tied the score.

On the play, Carter took a shot on net that hit Knuble in front of the crease. The puck bounced out between the circles where Eager got just enough of it at 19:19.

"I think what's sneaking up is the fact that he's got good skill," said Hitchcock of Eager. "I think he's been labeled as a role player, but his skill level is excellent. He does some good things with the puck. He's patient in the right areas, and he was at full value today. He didn't just score two goals; he controlled the tempo of the game at times. It was really good to see."

The Flyers will travel up the coast for the next week, visiting Atlanta on Wednesday, Carolina on Thursday, Washington on New Year's Eve and Boston on January 2.

Sami Kapanen missed the game with the flu. … This was the third of four meetings between the Flyers and Panthers this season. Philadelphia won the previous two games; both 5-4 at the Wachovia Center including an overtime win. … The Flyers had a long day, as they arrived in Florida the morning of the game after a 7:00 a.m. charter flight from Philadelphia. … The Flyers are now 2-2 in games decided by a shootout.
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