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Flyers clinch Atlantic with 7-4 win

by Adam Kimelman
PHILADELPHIA -- In the time it took the Philadelphia Flyers to strip off their uniforms Saturday night, all the problems of the last month of the regular season went out with the laundry.
Andrej Meszaros had his first career 4-point game and Scott Hartnell scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner with 91 seconds left in the second-period, as the Philadelphia Flyers held off the New York Islanders 7-4 at Wells Fargo Center to clinch their first Atlantic Division title since the 2003-04 season.
Meszaros had his second 2-goal NHL game, plus 2 assists, Danny Briere had a goal and 2 assists, and Kimmo Timonen and Darroll Powe also had goals for Philadelphia, which now prepares for a first-round playoff series against the seventh-seeded Buffalo Sabres. The teams split their four regular-season games.
The victory also ended a six-game home winless streak (0-2-4) for the Flyers. It was their first home win since beating the Edmonton Oilers on March 8.
It also brings to a close a rough final six weeks that saw them go just 8-8-7 in their final 23 games.
But now that the regular season done, it's all a distant memory.
"I don't really remember the problems," said Hartnell. "We've got the postseason coming up here now and we're feeling good here tonight."
"It's a new season," added Briere. "You're starting from scratch once again. Doesn't matter anymore what happened before, what you did in the regular season. You have to put that behind you and start all over. To start the series, nobody's ahead. We start from the same point and we have to find a way to get our confidence going once again."
And the players were clear that the confidence level they have in their goaltenders hasn't changed, despite Sergei Bobrovsky, the designated playoff starter, getting pulled just 12:05 into the game after allowing three goals on 10 shots. Brian Boucher came on to stop 25 of 26 shots the rest of the way.
"We have confidence in both goalies," said Meszaros. "Even Leights (Michael Leighton), he’s up right now. So whoever's going to be in net, everybody's going to be comfortable with it and just go from there."
John Tavares had a goal and 2 assists to lead the Islanders, and PA Parenteau, Travis Hamonic and Michael Grabner also had goals.
The game was tied 4-4 in final minutes of the second when Hartnell scored the winner. Briere carried the puck into the Islanders' end and sent a shot on net that Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro stopped. Matt Martin tried to clear the rebound, but Hartnell took it away from him and fired a shot from a sharp angle that beat DiPietro under the crossbar with 1:31 left.
It was Hartnell's first 2-goal game since Jan. 11, and third of the season.
Boucher made the lead stand up in the third, including stops on breakaways by Tavares and Grabner.
The first period got off to a wild start as the Flyers scored twice in the first minute of the game and the teams combined for six goals.
A DiPietro turnover led to Timonen's goal just 16 seconds into the game. He gloved a soft shot by the Philadelphia defenseman and rather than hold onto the puck, he tried to play it. Philadelphia's Kris Versteeg tipped it away from him and right to Flyers captain Mike Richards, who found Timonen for a one-timer from the center of the zone.
Just 31 seconds later the Flyers made it 2-0 when Ville Leino found a streaking Hartnell with a stretch pass, and Hartnell scored over DiPietro's glove for his glove for his 23rd of the season.
The Islanders evened play, however, when Grabner took the puck from Leino, skated in on Bobrovsky and beat him at 7:03 to make it 2-1. Moments later the Islanders held the puck in the Philadelphia end on a two-man advantage, and two seconds after one Philadelphia penalty expired, Tavares, who also had a pair of assists, made a nice diagonal pass to Travis Hamonic in the left circle for a shot that beat Bobrovsky.
The tie lasted just 19 seconds as Briere took the puck from Islanders defenseman Dylan Reese on the left wall at center ice, broke in and lifted a backhander over DiPietro's left shoulder to put the Flyers ahead 3-2 at 9:50.
Just 2:15 later, however, the Isles tied the game when Tavares tapped a loose puck into the net from the left post.
That spelled the end of Bobrovsky's night, as Boucher replaced him.
"You go back and look at some of those goals," said coach Peter Laviolette. "You got a breakaway, you got 5-on-3 and a puck that scrambles through a bunch of players and a guy left uncontested in front of the net. We could have done different things in front of Bob. I'm sure he wishes he had another crack at some of them. We could have been better in front of him."
The Islanders needed just 53 seconds into the second period to take their first lead. With Richards off for slashing just 19 seconds in, Matt Moulson fed Tavares in front. Tavares had his back to the net, but flicked the puck between his skates to Parenteau streaking in behind him for the power-play goal, his 20th of the season.
The Flyers tied the game on Meszaros' seventh goal of the season, as his blast from the right circle went through a James van Riemsdyk screen and past DiPietro eight minutes into the period.
Hartnell tied the game with his 24th of the season before the second period ended, and then Meszaros scored his second of the net when his wrister beat DiPietro in the upper left corner of the net for a power-play goal at 9:40 of the third.
Powe added an empty-net goal with one second left for the final margin.
It brought a smile to the faces of the home team, who now get to enjoy a few days off.
"I truly believe that when we wake up tomorrow there'll be a little zip in our step because we're back into the playoffs," said Laviolette. "You play the 82 games for the sole purpose, for the right to compete for it, and we're in. It's a good thing."
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