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Flyers 4, Thrashers 2 @NHLdotcom

ATLANTA (AP) - The slumping Philadelphia Flyers found out only minutes before Saturday night's game against the Atlanta Thrashers that star center Peter Forsberg would be held out because of a knee injury.

That was not exactly the pregame pep talk Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock planned.

Goalie Antero Niittymaki helped fill the leadership void, making 25 saves and helping turn back eight of nine Atlanta power-play opportunities in the Flyers' 4-2 victory over the Thrashers.

"For any other team to lose their best player in pregame warmup, that's emotionally draining and these guys really responded," Hitchcock said.

Forsberg suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee in the third period of Friday night's game against Tampa Bay. He expected to play Saturday night but suffered more discomfort than expected in the pregame workout.

"We didn't have a morning skate so I wanted to go out in pregame and test it out and see how it felt," Forsberg said. "Unfortunately it just didn't feel good enough to play."

Hitchcock said Forsberg likely would return for Tuesday's home game against New Jersey.

"The doctor here cleared him to play but it was a little sore, so we did not take a risk," Hitchcock said. "We'll have our own people look at him."

The Flyers, only 4-5-1 since the Olympic break, are fifth in the Eastern Conference standings, and two points behind the New York Rangers in the Atlantic Division.

Atlanta, a point behind eighth-place Montreal for the final playoff spot in the conference, has fallen from the top of the NHL's power-play rankings by scoring on only four of 37 opportunities with an advantage in its last six games.

The loss to the Flyers prevented the Thrashers from passing Montreal, which lost to Pittsburgh 5-4 Saturday night.

"We came out flat and it cost us in the end," Thrashers center Marc Savard said.

"We were not the best team," said Thrashers coach Bob Hartley.

"We missed some chances. There were some loose pucks around the net. This was an important time and we just could not cash in."

Mike Knuble, Jeff Carter, R.J. Umberger and Nicholas Dimitrakos scored for Philadelphia, and Bobby Holik and Marian Hossa countered for Atlanta.

With the game tied 1-1 after one period, Niittymaki made two strong saves in the opening minutes of the second period.

Niittymaki denied Atlanta's Brad Larsen in front of the net less than 2 minutes into the period. About 3 minutes later, the goalie made a glove save to stop Slava Kozlov on a breakaway.

"I guess the goalie is the best penalty killer," Niittymaki said. "We're taking so many penalties here, we have to get better."

The Flyers took a 3-1 lead in the second period. Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen couldn't stop Carter's shot from deep in the left circle less than 5 minutes into the second period. About 10 minutes later, Umberger scored on a rebound of Lehtonen's stop on Knuble's shot for the 3-1 lead.

After Niittymaki helped kill three power-play opportunities for the Thrashers, Hossa finally scored on Atlanta's fourth power play of the period, cutting the lead to 3-2.

The Flyers pushed the lead to 4-2 less than 6 minutes into the third period on a slap shot from the right circle by Dimitrakos.

Knuble's power-play goal gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead in the opening period. Holik answered with a tip-in for the Thrashers.

Joni Pitkanen and Eric Desjardins each had two assists for the Flyers.

Notes: Atlanta C Serge Aubin needed help leaving the ice after suffering a sprained right knee midway through the opening period. He did not return. Hartley said Aubin was "doing much better" after the game. ... Philadelphia RW Turner Stevenson (hip) returned after missing four games. ... Atlanta F Scott Mellanby was held out with flu-like symptoms.

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