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Flyers-Thrashers Preview

GAME: Philadelphia Flyers (22-8-5) at Atlanta Thrashers (16-16-5).

TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m. EST.

The first-place Philadelphia Flyers look to remain unbeaten on the longest road trip in franchise history when they face the surging Atlanta Thrashers.

After opening an 11-game trip Friday with a victory at Pittsburgh, the Flyers beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 in a shootout on Monday for their fourth straight road win.

Michal Handzus scored in the fourth round of the shootout after Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki denied Joe Nieuwendyk, Nathan Horton and Olli Jokinen. Niitymaki was helped when final shooter Jozef Stumpel failed to get off a shot.

Philadelphia has played four consecutive one-goal games, winning three and losing in a shootout in the other to Buffalo.

The Flyers have an opportunity Wednesday to avenge arguably their worst loss of the season.

Against the visiting Thrashers on Nov. 18, Philadelphia squandered a two-goal lead late in regulation and defenseman Greg de Vries scored on a breakaway in overtime, sending the Flyers to a disappointing 6-5 defeat.

"We remember the last game when they beat us in the last couple of seconds in the game," Flyers left wing Simon Gagne said. "They are going to come a lot stronger at home than they did against us in Philly. They have so much talent offensively and if we make some mistakes they are going to make us pay. That's something we can't afford."

Rookie Michael Garnett became the first Atlanta goalie to record consecutive shutouts, following a 1-0 win at New Jersey on Friday with a 4-0 victory Monday over Montreal.

Despite his recent success, Garnett figures to see decreased playing time now that Kari Lehtonen has been activated from injured reserve.

Lehtonen, who hasn't played since the season opener, missed the last 35 games with a strained groin.

"I said this morning that in this business, you have to reward the players that are playing well, and Michael Garnett is definitely giving us a chance to win," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "It's pretty easy to say his confidence is growing, and our confidence in him is growing also."

Atlanta has won five of six and has set a franchise record by earning at least one point in eight straight games (6-0-2).

Thrashers left wing Ilya Kovalchuk has six goals and seven assists in his last eight games, and a point in 18 of his last 22 contests.

STANDINGS (through Dec. 27): Flyers - 49 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division. Thrashers - 37 points, 3rd place, 12 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Flyers - Gagne, 25 goals; Peter Forsberg, 38 assists and 50 points; Donald Brashear, 45 PIM. Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 23 goals; Marc Savard, 33 assists and 49 points; Andy Sutton, 62 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 27): Flyers - Power play: 18.7 percent (42 for 225), tied for 10th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79 percent (169 for 214), tied for 28th. Thrashers - Power play: 21.1 percent (55 for 261), 4th. Penalty killing: 79.3 percent (192 for 242), 27th.

GOALTENDERS: Flyers - Robert Esche (11-4-2, 0 SO, 3.14 GAA); Niittymaki (11-4-3, 1, 2.79). Thrashers - Garnett (9-7-3, 2, 3.39); Lehtonen (0-0-0, 0.00).


LAST MEETING: Nov. 18; Thrashers, 6-5, OT. At Philadelphia, Kovalchuk had two goals and three assists while Branko Radivojevic had two goals and an assist for the Flyers.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Flyers - 9-3-2 on the road; Thrashers - 9-7-3 at home.

Associated Press
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