Philadelphia, PA – Peter Forsberg had a goal and an assist and Antero Niittymaki made 21 saves as the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the New Jersey Devils, 2-1, at the Wachovia Center Tuesday night.
With the Flyers up 1-0, Forsberg increased the lead on a second period power play. Philadelphia patiently worked the puck around the New Jersey zone, before the rebound of a shot by Freddy Meyer deflected off of Mike Knuble and right to the stick of Forsberg for the easy tap-in at 6:54.
Brian Gionta's wrist shot made it 2-1 at 3:55 of the third period to cut the lead in half. Petr Nedved was called for interference with 3:43 left in regulation but Philadelphia's penalty-killing unit fought it off without allowing any major scoring chances.
New Jersey had one last chance with 11.5 seconds left and a faceoff in the Flyers' zone with goaltender Martin Brodeur pulled, but Forsberg won a key draw and cleared the zone as time expired.
"We are getting better and better," said Ken Hitchcock. "Winning close games is hard against quality opponents who need the points as bad as we do."
The Flyers travel to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, and will attempt to tie the Rangers for first place in the Atlantic Division (7:00 p.m., CSN). Philadelphia trails New York by two points, but now leads New Jersey by 10 points.
"We need to make sure we are playing a smart game tomorrow, not rushing and getting lost," said Forsberg. "I think it will be a little tougher game than today. [The Rangers] been winning a few games lately."
The Devils struggled to get shots on goal for much of the first half of the game, and had only six with fewer than 11 minutes left in the second period. They picked it up offensively after that, but Niittymaki kept them off of the board through 40 minutes.
The rookie goaltender stopped Zach Parise alone in front of the net just past the midway point of the game, and got his toe on a deflected shot off of Scott Gomez. Later, Niittymaki allowed a rebound on Jay Pandolfo's backhanded attempt from the slot but then gloved the follow-up shot by Pandolfo freezing play.
Hitchcock did not announce the starting goaltender in New York, but had the following to say about his goaltenders, Niittymaki and Robert Esche.
"We have a very unique situation. We have two guys that the players trust and the coaches trust," he said. "We have no problem playing either guy right now. At some point in time, I will make a decision and run with it for the playoffs."
"I can't think about it, whatever happens happens, and that's it," said Niittymaki. We take it game-by-game and whoever plays has to play good. It doesn't help me to worry about it. I felt good tonight and I saw the puck well."
Philadelphia also continued its physical play of late. Newcomer Denis Gauthier, who seems to be good for at least one jarring hit per game, nailed Pandolfo into the boards late in the first period. Derian Hatcher also generated a cheer from the sellout crowd early in the second when he leveled Patrik Elias, whom he caught skating with his head down behind the Flyers' net.
The Flyers took an early lead courtesy of Simon Gagne's 40th goal of the season at 1:49. After Knuble was stopped at the side of the net, Gagne fired in the rebound as Brodeur got tangled up with Forsberg while trying to get back into position.
Gagne became the 12th player in franchise history to reach the 40-goal plateau and first since John LeClair in 1999-2000.
"You don't want to think about it, but it's in the back of your mind," said Gagne of the achievement. "It was good to get this one tonight and now I can turn the page."
Hitchcock picked up the 400th win in his NHL coaching career, becoming the 21st to do so in league history. He is the fifth fastest to accomplish the feat.
FLYERS NOTES The Flyers are now 3-2 against New Jersey this season, winning all three home games. They meet against on April 1 at the Wachovia Center. … Branko Radivojevic, Randy Jones and Turner Stevenson were healthy scratches. … Forsberg and Michal Handzus returned to the lineup after missing Saturday's game in Atlanta. … Jeff Carter's three game goal-scoring streak came to an end.