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Gagne and Esche Lead Flyers to 4-3 Win Over Lightning

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers
(Tampa, FL, December 28) – Simon Gagne scored twice, Peter Forsberg had three assists and Robert Esche made 42 saves as the Flyers survived a late rally by the Tampa Bay Lightning to win at the St. Pete Times Forum on Thursday night, 4-3.

The Flyers led 2-1 after the first period and added a pair of second period scores to take a 4-1 lead.

Gagne's second goal of the game came on a nice passing play that started with Forsberg. The Flyers' captain found an open Joni Pitkanen in the faceoff circle with a cross-ice pass, and Pitkanen quickly centered to Gagne who slammed it in at 9:30.

Sami Kapanen added a breakaway goal with 17.9 seconds left in the frame to give Philadelphia a commanding lead after 40 minutes. Kapanen had been stopped on a shorthanded breakaway earlier in the period.

A key moment for the Flyers came in the second when they had to kill of a five-on-three Lightning power play for over a minute when holding a 3-1 lead, but some impressive glove saves by Esche kept Philadelphia's two-goal cushion intact.

The Flyers also got a break in the period when an early whistle on a slap shot by Vincent LeCavalier trickled through Esche but was waved off at 8:30. Esche, who was out for over a month due to surgery, was making his first start in net since November 19 in San Jose and picked up his first win since November 15 in Anaheim.

"He was terrific I think he really sparked our team the way he played in the net," said John Stevens. "I was really happy for him. He came in and won us a hockey game."

Esche could feel the effects of not having played in awhile.

"It was definitely sore," he said of his injury. "It didn't feel good, actually at all the whole game, but I battled through it. I felt good seeing the puck though so I really didn't think about it that much."

Tampa Bay did not go away easily, and applied heavy pressure throughout the final 20 minutes. It cut the lead to 4-2 on an early power play goal by Filip Kuba, who blasted in a slap shot from the slot just 1:18 into the frame.

Later, it was Ruslan Fedotenko who corralled the rebound of a point shot by Dan Boyle following an offensive zone faceoff win by LeCavalier for a goal at 14:02.

That would be all the Lightning would get, however, as Philadelphia ended two dubious streaks with the win. It snapped a 10-game losing streak overall, the longest in club history, as well as a 10-game regular season losing streak to Tampa Bay. The Flyers defeated the Lightning for the first time since April 4, 2003; a 4-1 win here at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The Flyers opened the scoring on a power play goal by Alexei Zhitnik at 4:01, his first as a Flyer, but the Lightning tied the game on a two-man advantage on Martin St. Louis' backhander at the side of the net midway through the first period.

Gagne's first goal of the game at 16:41 of the first on a nice pass from Mike Knuble gave the Flyers the lead for good.

Forsberg, who assisted on the first three Flyers goals, registered his first multiple-assist game since Philadelphia's third game of the season; a 4-2 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

"It's definitely a step in the right direction and great to get a win," said Forsberg. "I've been battling a foot problem for awhile here and it's starting to get a little better. I just have to look forward. It's been frustrating so far but it's a new year coming up and I just have to make sure I'm healthy and in good shape and playing good hockey."

Forsberg also earned high marks from his head coach.

"Peter Forsberg is so strong on the puck and he hasn't had a lot of time on the ice dealing with his skate and everything else going on, and I can't say enough about how hard he competed on that line right from the start of the hockey game," said Stevens. "He did a lot of great things, but just his work on the puck is the best I've seen all year."

Philadelphia continues its road trip with a game on New Year's Eve against the Carolina Hurricanes (8:00 p.m., Comcast SportsNet, 610 WIP).

Darren Reid was reassigned to the Phantoms earlier in the day, while goaltender Scott Munroe served as Esche's backup while Antero Niittymaki is sidelined with a slight left hip strain. … Jeff Carter assisted on Kapanen's goal, extending his point streak to four games (2g, 2a). … Kyle Calder's three-game point streak came to an end.
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