Atlanta, GA – Rookies Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger both scored second period goals, and their new linemate Niko Dimitrakos added insurance in the third as the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on Saturday night despite the absence of Peter Forsberg, 4-2.
With the game tied 1-1 after the first period, goaltender Antero Niittymaki kept it that way in the second period with a couple of key stops before the Flyers took the lead. First, he stoned Brad Larsen on a two-on-one rush early in the frame and later squeezed the pads on a breakaway attempt by Jim Slater about five minutes in.
On the ensuing faceoff after the breakaway in the Flyers' zone, Carter took control of the puck behind center ice and skated into the Atlanta zone before firing a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle inside the far post at 5:19.
"Carter is one of the few players in the league who can score from the top of the circle," said Ken Hitchcock. "He did it again tonight."
Thrashers goaltender Kari Lehtonen, facing Niittymaki for the first time since the 2005 Calder Cup Finals when he was with the Chicago Wolves, gave up a rebound goal to R.J. Umberger in the slot at 15:34 as Philadelphia built a two-goal cushion.
Atlanta got one back before the end of the second on the power play when Marian Hossa snuck behind Sami Kapanen and took a pass from Holik before skating in all alone on Niittymaki for a goal at 18:21. Dimitrakos, however, gave Philadelphia some insurance in the third period when his slap shot at 5:48 beat Lehtonen high to the short, glove side to make it a 4-2 game and cap the scoring.
Dimitrakos was playing alongside Carter and Umberger and each had a goal in the victory.
"I think [Carter] and I have always had good chemistry, and Niko is a very good addition," said Umberger. "He is composed with the puck and makes good plays."
"They have played really well since we've put them together," said Hitchcock. "They've given us a huge push. It's great because it's three skilled guys that really seem to work well together right now. It's fun to watch."
Dimitrakos scored his second goal in as many nights for the Flyers.
"Lately, the last couple of games I've started to feel strong out there. We have some chemistry going," he said.
Philadelphia's penalty-killing unit was key in the victory, killing off eight of nine Atlanta power plays including seven consecutive minor penalties that were called on the Flyers from late in the first until late in the third. They were 1-for-4 with the man advantage.
The Flyers were without Forsberg, who went out for warm-ups but came off of the ice with a sprained right knee. Forsberg later said he hurt the knee during Friday night's game in Tampa Bay and does not expect the injury to be long term. In fact, the doctor cleared Forsberg to play but the team decided not to risk anything, according to Hitchcock. He will be back in on Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils (7:00 p.m., CSN).
The Flyers remain two points behind New York for first place in the division after the Rangers defeated the Maple Leafs Saturday night. Still, Hitchcock likes what he has seen from his club lately.
"To lose your best player in the pre-game warm-ups and not be able to go, that is emotionally draining and our guys really responded," said Hitchcock. "Our team's resiliency is coming back. We've played three really good games, and our energy and our focus and our work is coming back right now."
Eric Desjardins picked up assists on the first two Flyers goals, giving him 300 in his Flyers career. He is the 12th player in franchise history to do so. Joni Pitkanen finished the night with three assists.
For the second straight night the Flyers came out of the gate strong. They took the lead when Mike Knuble slammed in a deflected shot off the cross bar by Pitkanen at 10:27.
Atlanta got a fortunate bounce in tying the game when a shot by Niclas Havelid deflected off of Bobby Holik and inside the post at 12:13. Philadelphia out shot the Thrashers 14-4 over the first 20 minutes yet went to the locker room with a 1-1 tie.
FLYERS NOTES The Flyers have 14 games left in the regular season with seven at home and on the road. … Michal Handzus was scratched, as was the original play to not play him in back-to-back games. Turner Stevenson played in his first game since March 8, while Kapanen was back after missing Friday night's game with a sore right shoulder. … Atlanta's Serge Aubin left the game with a right knee injury after falling awkwardly into the boards in the first period and did not return after being helped off the ice.