New York, NY – Michael Nylander and Petr Sykora scored in a shootout in helping the New York Rangers defeat the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night, 3-2. With the loss, Philadelphia now trails the Rangers by three points in the chase for the Atlantic Division title with seven games left in the regular season for each club.
Simon Gagne scored to start the shootout, but Nylander and Sykora both converted on their chances while Kevin Weekes stopped Peter Forsberg. It was up to Michal Handzus to keep the shootout going, but he fired high to end the game.
The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for the Flyers at Madison Square Garden, and also marked the first time that the home team has won in the season series through seven games. Four of the seven contests so far have gone past regulation. The eighth and final game is April 15 at the Wachovia Center.
"We have to keep just moving ahead," said Ken Hitchcock. "They have some tough games and they have to come back to our building. That should be a great game again. We have to keep improving."
With the Flyers leading 2-1 after two, New York tied the game at 5:34 of the third. A bouncing puck in the Flyers' zone was eventually controlled by Nylander, who put a shot on net and Martin Straka knocked in the rebound.
The rest of the period the teams traded some tremendous scoring chances but some lucky bounces and highlight reel saves pushed the game into overtime.
Shortly after the tying goal the Flyers had a couple great opportunities but Joni Pitkanen hit the post with a bouncing shot and Jeff Carter was stopped going in alone on net by Weekes on a sprawling save after Carter moved to his backhand.
"We were in great shape with a lead up 2-1, and they tied the game and you never know what can happen after that," said Gagne.
Robert Esche, making his second straight start, flashed the leather with nine minutes left in the third on Jaromir Jagr
while Sami Kapanen was stopped on a shorthanded breakaway later in the period.
Esche also two key saves in overtime, blocking away a wrist shot by Blair Betts
in the slot with less than a minute to go and stopping defenseman Michal Roszival's slap shot as the buzzer sounded.
The atmosphere at Madison Square Garden made the game feel like a preview to the playoffs.
"I thought it was a great hockey game. The building was really jumping and it was not an easy place to play tonight. It was a great prep for the playoffs," said Mike Knuble. "As a player, you have to love playing in a situation like it was tonight. We played hard and they played hard."
"I think the league has done a terrific job scheduling games like this," said Esche of the format introduced this season. "Tonight was the perfect example of that."
New York scored the only first period goal, outshooting the Flyers 10-3 in the process. Jagr made a nifty move in the Flyers' zone and fed Sandis Ozolinsh in the high slot. Ozolinsh quickly found Nylander for a redirection at 6:29.
Esche came up with a couple of keys saves in the period after that, including stopping Jagr skating alone in on net with a little over six minutes left.
Many of the Flyers had not skated since the team's game on Sunday afternoon on Long Island. Monday was a day off, while the ice at Madison Square Garden was unavailable Tuesday morning due to the circus. In contrast, the Rangers had not played since a 6-3 loss last Thursday in Ottawa.
Philadelphia got its legs back in the second period and took the lead.
Forsberg set up Knuble to tie the game. With Rozsival draped on his back, Forsberg skated around behind the net and fed Knuble in front for a goal at 6:10.
"That was a classic Peter Forsberg pass. I had my stick down and it went in," said Knuble. "It's great to see Peter making plays like that."
Esche made a spectacular save on Jagr about two minutes after the Knuble goal, gloving the NHL leading scorer's shot from the faceoff circle and freezing play. It turned out to be a key moment in the game when Gagne's 43rd goal of the season at 11:29 made it 2-1 in favor of Philadelphia. Gagne buried the rebound of Knuble's shot after a great blind, tip pass from Forsberg to Eric Desjardins deep in the Flyers' zone began the breakout.
"The second period was the best period of hockey we played on the road, maybe even all year," said Hitchcock.
Philadelphia killed off seven New York power plays but was 0-for-3 with a man advantage.
Esche made 38 saves and fell to 1-2 in shootouts, while Weekes stopped 21 Flyers shots.
Philadelphia's three-game road trip comes to an end on Friday in Buffalo (8:00 p.m., UPN). The Flyers host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday at the Wachovia Center (7:00 p.m., CSN).FLYERS NOTES
Petr Nedved missed his second straight game with a right groin strain. … Brian Savage returned after missing the last two games due to personal reasons. … Rangers rookie goaltender Henrik Lundqvist missed game with a mild hip flexor strain. … Mike Richards got into his second fight in as many games, dropping the gloves with New York's Ryan Hollweg. Hollweg's hit from behind on R.J. Umberger in a game on March 22 resulted in a three-game suspension. … Knuble's assist on Gagne's second period goal gives him 30 on the season, a new career high. … Philadelphia fell to 4-6 in shootouts while the Rangers improved to 7-4. … Jagr has nine goals and six assists in seven games against the Flyers this season, and finished the night with 12 shots.