Uniondale, NY – The Philadelphia Flyers scored three first period goals and Robert Esche made 31 saves en route to a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders Sunday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum.
With the victory, the Flyers pulled to within two points of the Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers heading into their matchup on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden (7:00 p.m., OLN).
With the Flyers leading 1-0, rookies R.J. Umberger and Jeff Carter scored a couple of unassisted goals to give Philadelphia a three-goal cushion after the first period.
Umberger made it 2-0 midway through. After a slap shot by the Islanders' Radek Martinek hit the cross bar, the puck made its way to Umberger at center ice. The rookie skated around defenseman John Erskine and lifted a backhander past the glove hand of Rick Dipietro for his 16th goal of the season in one of the prettier goals of the season.
"I got the loose puck, had speed, and kind of committed to a little inside-out move and got [Erskine] crossing over. Once he crossed over, I was by him," said Umberger. "When you're moving left to right like that the goalie is too, so I backhanded it across the ice."
Umberger's linemate, Jeff Carter, took advantage of a bad turnover by Joel Bouchard at the blue line and fired in a wrist shot from the faceoff circle with 14.5 seconds left in the period.
The line of Umberger, Carter and Niko Dimitrakos now has 13 goals in the last eight games. Six of those are by Carter, who now has 20 on the season.
"I think the two of us have had a lot of chemistry together, and have helped each other out," said Umberger of playing with Carter. "I'm right behind him pushing for 20 now, and now along with Niko, we are all really helping each other out."
"That line has just been terrific," said Ken Hitchcock. "They have given us that secondary scoring that we've yearned for all year."
New York had its chances in the first period, including two stoppages of play for a video review. Early in the game, Esche gloved a wrap around attempt by Robert Nilsson just before it crossed the plane of the goal line. Later, with less than five minutes left, a deflection attempt hit the post and bounced on the goal line before it was frozen by Esche with help from Eric Desjardins.
The Islanders outshot the Flyers 18-8 over the first 20 minutes.
Esche, who had started just one of the previous five games, recorded his 19th win of the season. Fellow Team USA Olympian Dipietro stopped 18 shots in the loss.
"Esche played really well today. He made the saves when we needed them early on," said Mike Richards.
"Esche was terrific and probably earned a start in New York based on his performance today," said Hitchcock.
Mike Knuble opened the scoring with his 31st goal of the season. A wrist shot by Mike Rathje went wide of the net, but Knuble got position on defenseman Chris Campoli and backhanded in the puck after it bounced out in front off of the back boards at 4:42.
Knuble set a new career high in both goals and points (60) with the tally.
"Knuble is just kind of an unsung hero on the hockey club," said Hitchcock. "He just goes out and plays and competes every night. You know every night when Mike is coming to the rink exactly what you're going to get from him."
"Personally, I'm thrilled with it," said Knuble. "You always want to do better than you did previously. It's always a good time in your career when you're establishing new highs."
New York avoided being shut out with a goal at 1:16 of the third period on a two-man advantage, when Shawn Bates slammed in a pass by Miroslav Satan.
Sami Kapanen scored a shorthanded, empty net goal with two minutes left after the Islanders pulled Dipietro following a holding call to Michal Handzus.
The Islanders dropped their fourth straight game and have scored just two goals over that span as they have been all but eliminated from the playoff race.
The Flyers have now won five of the seven games in the season series. They will meet again on April 18 on Long Island in the last game of the regular season.
FLYERS NOTES Petr Nedved, who left Saturday's game early with a groin strain, did not play. He is being listed as day-to-day after his MRI was negative and could return as early as Tuesday against the Rangers according to trainer Jim McCrossin. … Turner Stevenson was back in the lineup after sitting out the last four games. … Richards got the upper hand in a fight with Bouchard in the first period.