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Gagne's Return Sparks Flyers Victory

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers
Philadelphia, PA – The Flyers scored the first four goals of the game and then held on for victory, defeating the Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa Senators at the Wachovia Center, 4-3.

Simon Gagne's return resulted in a goal and an assist, as he was reunited with linemates Peter Forsberg and Mike Knuble. Forsberg spotted Gagne cutting to the slot and gave him a perfect backhand pass at 9:08 of the second period for what turned out to be the game-winning goal as Gagne's shot found the top corner for his 24th of the season, giving the Flyers a 4-0 lead at the time.

Gagne was back in the lineup after missing the last five games with a groin injury. It was the first game that Gagne and Forsberg were playing in the same game since November 25 in Boston, as Forsberg missed six games with a groin injury as well.

"It's fun when you come back and get a couple of points like that," said Gagne. "Playing with Mike [Knuble] and Peter [Forsberg] it's always fun every night. Every time you go on the ice for a shift, you feel like something is going to happen."

Ottawa lost for just the sixth time in regulation all season – including its second at the hands of the Flyers.

In what was one of the best 20 minutes the Flyers have played all season, Philadelphia scored three times in the first period to take a 3-0 lead into the locker room.

First it was the Flyers' three leading scorers hooking up for a power play goal. Forsberg controlled the puck along the boards, passed down low to Gagne, who quickly redirected the puck to Knuble for a one-timer at 6:52.

Sami Kapanen redirected a pass from Dennis Seidenberg at 15:04, as the puck slid through the outstretched glove of Dominik Hasek to make it a 2-0 game.

R.J. Umberger's sixth goal of the season at 18:29 gave the Flyers' a three-goal cushion. On the play, Ottawa's Brian McGrattan was too busy trying to pick a fight with Donald Brashear that he missed a check, resulting in an odd-man rush for the Flyers. Brashear got his stick on the puck in the crease, and Umberger was there to find the rebound.

Ottawa was not without its chances in the period, but Antero Niittymaki made several dazzling saves to keep the Senators off of the boards. He robbed Peter Schaefer at the side of the net with his arm, and later did the splits in the closing seconds of the frame with Ottawa on a power play snuffing a shot by Bryan Smolinski.

"[Niitymaki] was standing on his head on a couple of those saves," said Kapanen. "He gave us what we needed to win the game. I thought he was tremendous and maybe that was a personal statement on his part that he can play this game and that he's qualified to play in the Olympics."

"Ottawa has been scoring a lot of goals all season long. We fell back a little too much in the second period, but we were happy to get away with the win," said Forsberg. "Niitty saved us. They are a good team and they will be there at the end, that's for sure."

Niittymaki finished with 25 saves, while Hasek stopped 26 Flyers shots.

Ottawa did not go away after getting down, however, as Zdeno Chara's shot on the power play got through Niittymaki to make it 4-1 at 12:56. Just 80 seconds later Vaclav Varada stole the puck from Freddy Meyer and cut to the net, eventually getting off a shot. Antoine Vermette came charging in, and whacked the loose puck across the line.

Philadelphia's penalty-killing was called upon to preserve that lead. Knuble was called for interference at 16:14 of the second period, giving Ottawa a chance to cut the lead to just a goal, but the Flyers killed off the power play.

Two penalties midway through the third period, including a very soft hooking call on Forsberg, resulted in a 67 second two-man advantage for Ottawa. Although the Flyers killed it off, the Senators kept the puck in the zone and Schaefer centered it from behind the net to Mike Fisher for a goal at 11:51.

A hooking call on Dany Heatley at 19:10 of the third period effectively ended the game, as the Senators were unable to generate any more scoring chances while shorthanded.

Philadelphia was 2-for-4 with the man advantage and killed of six of seven Ottawa power plays.

The Flyers now embark on their longest road swing in franchise history, beginning a stretch of 11 straight games away from home on Friday night in Pittsburgh.

Knuble extended his goal-scoring streak to four games (5g). … This was the second of four meetings between the two clubs. The Flyers won first, 5-3 on October 30 at the Corel Centre. … Philadelphia improved to 5-2 in its orange third jerseys this season. … Ottawa's Jason Spezza, tied for third in the league in scoring with 47 points, missed the game due to a chest injury.
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