New York, NY – The Philadelphia Flyers erased a two-goal third period deficit and defeated the New York Rangers on Joni Pitkanen's overtime goal to win 3-2 at Madison Square Garden on Monday night.
Pitkanen took a pass from Mike Knuble and ripped a slap shot that beat goaltender Henrik Lundqvist high to the short side just 1:28 into the extra session as Philadelphia increased its lead over the Rangers in the Atlantic Division.
"I saw Mike get the puck, and I think a couple of their guys went to change," said Pitkanen. "Mike made a good pass and I just took a slap shot."
After having lost six of the last eight games, and suffering more and more injuries along the way, Ken Hitchcock considered the victory one of the biggest of the season so far.
"It's a big win because of what we've had to go through here the last 10 days or so," he said. "It's a win that can define a lot of things as to who you are. I think we answered some questions today and this is something we can build on now. I think our players feel really good about themselves today, and they should."
Just when it looked like the Flyers may suffer their second straight shutout, they came back to tie the game and force overtime. First it was Pitkanen, who got a fortunate bounce when his wrist shot deflected off of the skate of New York's Steve Rucchin and over Lundqvist for a goal at 10:18.
"He's a point-a-game guy, and he's a big time plus player," said Hitchcock of Pitkanen. "We've been able to survive without [him and Eric Desjardins], but he's a world-class player. You saw it again today when the game is on the line and he scores two goals."
Philadelphia got a power play after a tripping call to Darius Kasparaitis with 4:33 left in the third and failed to convert, but Freddy Meyer took a wrist shot from high in the zone that was tipped by Mike Richards to tie the game with 1:38 left in regulation.
Philadelphia now has 70 points compared with New York's 66, as the Rangers were awarded a point for forcing overtime. Both teams have played 52 games.
"We played a great game," said Robert Esche. "I know we're never happy about having to chase the game for a little bit, but I think we played outstanding from the start to the finish. We didn't change things in the third period."
The first period featured a couple of momentum swings before the Rangers took a 1-0 lead with 1:59 left. New York outshot the Flyers 10-3 over the first half of the frame, but Jaromir Jagr
hit the post on a loose puck in front of the crease and Esche stopped Jason Ward on a backhanded shot in the slot midway through.
Philadelphia recorded the next 10 shots on goal, but Lundqvist kept the Flyers off of the board stopping a blast by Pitkanen from the high slot on a Flyers power play.
Lundqvist, who is already a fan favorite in New York, entered the game with a 7-0-3 record against Atlantic Division opponents with a 1.77 goals against average. The Flyers improved to 12-3-1 against their division rivals this season.
Lundqvist finished with 37 saves while Esche picked up the victory, stopping 28 Rangers shots.
Jagr's goal from the faceoff dot 18:01 into the game after some nifty moves by Martin Straka to bring the puck into the Flyers goal gave New York the lead at the first intermission.
After a scoreless second period, the Rangers got a two-goal cushion when, on a two-on-one rush, Petr Sykora fed Rucinsky for a goal at 8:22 of the third period.
"Between the second and third periods when we were down 1-0 we felt that if we just kept playing that we were going to win," said Derian Hatcher, who played in his first game as the acting captain of the team. "They got that second one, and we didn't stop. That's a great sign. We kept going."
The Flyers travel to Buffalo to face the Sabres on Thursday night before returning home to play the Rangers once again at the Wachovia Center on Saturday.FLYERS NOTES
Ken Hitchcock announced before the game that defenseman Kim Johnsson is suffering from post-concussion symptoms and will be reevaluated on Wednesday. … This was the third of eight games between the Atlantic Division rivals this season. The teams split the first two. … Philadelphia's 17 decisions in either overtime or a shootout is the most in the league. … The Flyers improved to 7-4 in overtime. … Philadelphia won its only previous game in New York this season as well when Simon Gagne scored an overtime goal just seven seconds after the faceoff on January 5.