Philadelphia, PA – The Philadelphia Flyers scored four times before the midway point of the first period and led the entire game in a 6-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators Saturday night at the Wachovia Center.
Jeff Carter and Petr Nedved each had a goal and an assist in the game to lead the Flyers, who won their fourth straight game. It was Philadelphia's 40th win of the season, and the sixth straight time the team has achieved that mark.
"It was a great start. All four lines contributed," said Ken Hitchcock. "We are getting better every day now. You can see it in the practices and you can see it in the game. We are getting healthier and we have some continuity on lines."
The Flyers are now tied with the Rangers for first place in the Atlantic Division, after New York fell in a shootout to Tampa Bay. Each team has 11 games remaining, including two head-to-head matchups.
The first five minutes was about as entertaining as it has been on the Wachovia Center ice all season long.
The Flyers jumped ahead to a quick lead on Nedved's sixth goal of the season. Joni Pitkanen's point shot was knocked around in front of the net, before Nedved gained control, turned around, and fired a wrist shot inside the near post just 35 seconds into the game.
The Carter-R.J. Umberger-Niko Dimitrakos line remained red hot, as Philadelphia increased its lead at 2:01. Carter drove to the net, tipped a pass from Umberger on Ray Emery, and Dimitrakos was there to bang in the rebound.
"They are put in critical situations and answer the bell every game," said Hitchcock of the Flyers' rookie contingent, which includes Carter and Umberger. "The uniqueness of our first year players is that they are all championship players. In big games, you do not have to come to the rink and worry whether they are going to compete on not. That's a given."
Denis Gauthier, never one to shy away from a physical game, made his presence felt when he drilled Ottawa's all-time penalty minutes leader Chris Neil with a clean shoulder check behind the Flyers' net. Neil had to be helped off of the ice, but was okay.
A battle between Donald Brashear and Ottawa's Brian McGrattan came next at the 4:18 mark. After McGrattan decided he won the fight, he motioned to the Flyers bench before heading to the penalty box, but the Flyers got the last laugh when McGrattan cost his team a chance to get back into the game.
Brian Pothier made it a 4-1 game with a power play goal in the second period, as Ottawa attempted to whittle down the Flyers' lead. McGrattan was whistled for charging in the final minute of the frame, though, nullifying a goal by teammate Chris Kelly.
The penalty led to a Flyers' third period goal at the 39-second mark, when Pitkanen's point shot was deflected by Peter Forsberg in the faceoff circle.
Brashear also scored halfway through the third period, when he got his own rebound after a diving save by Morrison and the puck bounced in off of defenseman Christoph Schubert to make it a 6-2 game at the time.
Carter increased the Flyers' lead to 3-0 when he scored his fifth goal in six games at 6:54 of the first period, stripping Pothier of the puck in the Ottawa zone and firing a wrist shot past Emery at 6:54.
"I'm feeling really comfortable out there," said Carter. "I have a lot of confidence right now. Our line has been going really great. Since Niko got here, we've been together the whole time, so that has been a bonus.
Michal Handzus made it 4-0, when his hit on Wade Redden forced a turnover behind the Ottawa net. The puck went to Nedved, who gave it right back to Handzus who then stuffed it in, prompting Senators coach Bryan Murray to pull Emery in favor of backup Mike Morrison.
Morrison played in his first game with Ottawa since being claimed off of waivers on March 9 from Edmonton. Emery started the last 13 games, as regular goaltender Dominik Hasek remains out with a strained adductor muscle suffered in the Olympics, with no time frame on his return.
Antero Niittymaki made 33 saves to pick up the win, as the Flyers out shot Ottawa 45-36 in the game.
Philadelphia won three of the four games of the season series against the Eastern Conference-leading Senators. The first part of the game was similar to the last time the Senators were in town, when the Flyers led 4-0 midway through the second period before Ottawa fought back to make it a 4-3 nail biter.
"We knew we had given up some leads this year, we wanted to play well with the lead and we did tonight," said Handzus.
The Flyers have off until Tuesday night when they host the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs at the Wachovia Center (7:00 p.m., CSN).
FLYERS NOTES Branko Radivojevic and Turner Stevenson were the healthy scratches for the Flyers. … Dimitrakos left the ice momentarily in the first period after blocking a shot, but returned shortly after. … Ottawa was without injured players Zdeno Chara and Martin Havlat along with Hasek.