(Philadelphia, PA, March 15) – Stefan Ruzicka had a career-high three points in leading the Philadelphia Flyers to a 3-2 victory over the Southeast Division leading Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night at the Wachovia Center.
With the game tied 1-1 in the second period, Philadelphia retook the lead on a three-on-two rush. Geoff Sanderson blasted a shot from the faceoff circle and the rebound went into the slot where it was backhanded in by Ruzicka at 8:52 for his second goal of the year.
Ruzicka and Sanderson hooked up again in the third period to give Philadelphia a two-goal cushion. Sanderson passed the puck behind the net to Ruzicka, who passed it back to Sanderson for a shot from the faceoff circle that found daylight over the shoulder of goaltender Kari Lehtonen at 4:48 for the eventual game-winner.
"He might be a better playmaker than he is a scorer," said John Stevens about Ruzicka after the game. "He has a vision with the puck, he can hold the puck, and [Geoff Sanderson] is a shooter. I think that any time you get a guy who is a shooter you should put a playmaker with him."
"They had us together for the last couple of weeks and [Ruzicka] has been making some great plays on the power play and even strength," said Sanderson. "Tonight, we finally clicked and got a couple of goals for our line."
Eric Belanger's redirection of a shot by Keith Tkachuk made it a 3-2 game with 5:32 remaining, but that was as close as Atlanta would get as goaltender Martin Biron finished with 37 saves.
The Flyers swept the four-game season series with Atlanta, which is battling for playoff position.
"Obviously, they got a lot on the line and for us to come out and get two points tonight was a big win," said Stevens.
Philadelphia took a first period lead due in large part to its special teams. Lasse Kukkonen was sent to the penalty box for four minutes after high-sticking Atlanta's Bobby Holik at 5:07. The Flyers killed it off, however, and even got the best scoring chance on R.J. Umberger's partial breakaway.
Derian Hatcher's first goal of the season, and first since December 3, 2005, gave the Flyers the lead. Ruzicka threw the puck towards the net where it hit Hatcher in front, and the big Flyers defenseman got his stick on the loose puck to whack it home at 19:17.
"I kind of put it out of my mind, but it always feels good to score," said Hatcher of his goal shortage.
The Thrashers tied the game when the newly acquired Tkachuk got his own rebound at 1:16.
The game marked the return of two players to the Flyers lineup. Mike Knuble returned after missing the last 12 games with a couple of broken bones in his face, while Ben Eager was back after an 11-game absence due to a high right ankle sprain.
The Flyers play in Ottawa on Saturday night (7:00 p.m., Comcast SportsNet, 610 WIP).
FLYERS NOTES Scottie Upshall left the game in the second period with an upper body injury and did not return. He will be out of action for 10 days. … Philadelphia improved to 21-3-3-1 all-time against the Thrashers. … Hatcher's goal ended a 125-game scoreless drought.