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Flyers can do no wrong against Thrashers

by Brian Compton
A few thoughts while the Thrashers ask if it's possible to never play the Flyers again:

Will it ever end? -- It's been more than three years since the Atlanta Thrashers defeated the Philadelphia Flyers. The trend continued  Sunday afternoon.

Jeff Carter scored twice and helped his team jump out to a 3-0 lead before the Thrashers made it interesting in a 3-2 decision at Philips Arena. The Flyers have won the last 14 meetings between the clubs and outscored Atlanta 19-8 in four games this season.

Fourteen straight wins? "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" didn't even last this long.

''The first couple of games this year, I didn't think they played that well,'' said Flyers goalie Antero Nittymaki, who improved to 13-0 lifetime against the Thrashers. ''This was actually the best game they played against us.''

The third period was certainly Atlanta's best, as it outshot Philadelphia 10-6 and turned a 3-0 game into 3-2 on goals from Ilya Kovalchuk -- his 22nd of the season -- and Slava Kozlov. But the Thrashers failed to notch the equalizer

"Our overall effort was better and we played way smarter," Atlanta coach John Anderson said. "Still, it's not good enough. Maybe it's a Niittymaki curse or something."

A curse the Thrashers can't seem to end. Clearly, there won't be any goaltending controversy on nights when the Flyers are scheduled to play Atlanta.

"He's been great," Flyers coach John Stevens said of Niittymaki. "It looks to me like he's really focused now in practice. He works hard at his game. It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that we're going to play him against Atlanta with the success he's had."

Streak's over -- Leave it to the red-hot Dallas Stars to put an end to the Nashville Predators' winning ways.

Brad Richards had a goal and an assist and Marty Turco made 25 saves as the Stars ended the Preds' four-game winning streak with a 4-1 victory at the American Airlines Center. With the win, Dallas improved to 11-1-1 over its last 13 games on home ice and 9-2-2 in its last 13 games anywhere.

''They're not all masterpieces, but we'll take the win and the two points,'' said Stars coach Dave Tippett, who has decided to reward the team with a rare day off on Monday. ''You're physically fatigued, but you push through it.''

Turco played in his 23rd consecutive game, tying Cesare Maniago's franchise record set in the 1968-69 season when the team was based in Minnesota. Turco has been a completely different goaltender as of late, as he is 8-2 in his last 10 with a 1.80 goals-against average.

''I feel energetic and sharp,'' Turco said. ''I need to be playing with confidence and poise, getting the opportunity to make and make saves.''

While the Stars' power play has been solid -- they are 7-for-21 this month -- Richards knows who is mainly responsible for the team's resurgence.

''Marty was on tonight and that was huge,'' Richards said. ''We weren't at our best but we found a way to get through it. It's nice to have the special teams going. It was a tough week. Tonight we battled through some sluggish play.''

Anybody have a shoehorn? -- If things were any tighter in the Western Conference, the League would have to ask Land O'Lakes to be an official sponsor. After all, fifth and 15th place in the West are separated by just nine points.

Two teams very much in the mix squared off at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday afternoon and both came away with points as the Minnesota Wild edged the Edmonton Oilers in a shootout, 3-2. It was the Wild's ninth straight win against the Oilers on home ice.

But Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson helped his team gain a point in the standings by making 37 saves. Edmonton is now tied with the Vancouver Canucks for eighth place at 56 points apiece. Minnesota is one point ahead of both clubs with 57.

''The teams are so equal, especially in our conference,'' Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. ''We're all there. So when we play each other, it's going to be intense, close games.''

Oilers coach Craig MacTavish agreed. His team trailed 2-1 until sophomore Sam Gagner scored with just 6:04 left in regulation.

''In the Western Conference now, every team is in it,'' MacTavish said. ''We're competitive and we battle hard. We've just been short against the best teams in the League.''

One of the biggest reasons -- if not the biggest -- why the Wild are in playoff position is due to the play of All-Star goaltender Niklas Backstrom. The 30-year-old stopped 28 pucks through regulation and overtime before going 4-for-4 in Sunday's shootout.

''We're fighting for the same playoff spot as (the Oilers) are, so every game is going huge against them,'' Backstrom said. ''We need every point we can get, so it was a good game for us to get two points.''

Just too good -- When the final horn sounded, the Pittsburgh Penguins knew the unfortunate truth: They're just not playing at the same level as the Detroit Red Wings.

From start to finish Sunday afternoon at Mellon Arena, the defending Stanley Cup champions frustrated the Eastern Conference champs at both ends of the ice. Sidney Crosby had just one shot on goal, and it didn't occur until the third period. Evgeni Malkin -- the League's leader in points -- had four shots.

"We had a few chances … maybe we ran out of luck," Pens defenseman Kris Letang said. "We didn't score. They're a really good team, obviously. I don't know what to say. It's frustrating. They keep the puck all game long. It's tough to get the puck back with skill like that."

Meanwhile, Marian Hossa -- who bolted Pittsburgh and as much as $40 million last summer to sign a one-year deal with the Wings -- scored his 30th goal of the season in the second period.

"They're the Stanley Cup champions, and they've only lost 11 (regulation) games this year," Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien said. "It's a good team. Our energy level was there. We didn't execute around the net. When you take a shot, there's no rebounds. They clear the net really well. They've got some world-class players out there."

So does Pittsburgh, which is what makes the 2008-09 season all the more puzzling. Sunday's loss kept the Penguins in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, two points out of the final playoff spot.
"He's been great. It looks to me like he's really focused now in practice. He works hard at his game. It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that we're going to play him against Atlanta with the success he's had." -- Flyers coach John Stevens on goalie Antero Niittymaki
Can you imagine a team that boasts Crosby and Malkin missing the playoffs? That would be like watching "Everybody Loves Raymond" without Ray Romano.

"Even strength, we didn't capitalize," Crosby said. "There's going to be games when they don't go in, and you've still got to find a way to win. We weren't able to put it in."

It doesn't exactly get easier for the Pens, either. Wednesday night, they'll host the San Jose Sharks, who are 13-5-4 on the road. Crosby was asked if he could take anything positive from Sunday into Wednesday's contest.

"There's not much positive about losing," Crosby said. "Our intent was there, our effort was there. That's got to be there, there's no question. But we've got to find ways to win."

Contact Brian Compton at:

Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.

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