PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Robert Esche has given Philadelphia more than steady
goaltending. He has the Flyers believing they can beat New Jersey.
Esche had 37 saves and Marcus Ragnarsson scored the go-ahead goal 23 seconds
into the third period to lead Philadelphia to a 2-1 win over the Devils on
``I think we are over whatever the problem was against this team,'' Esche
The Flyers beat the Devils for the second time this week _ they won 3-1
Tuesday _ and have opened an eight-point lead over them in the Atlantic
Philadelphia may have also gotten over its mental hump of not being able to
beat New Jersey. After starting the season series with two losses and a tie,
the Flyers finished with three straight wins.
``I don't think we believed we could beat them,'' Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock
said. ``There was a feeling something bad was going to happen every game. We
don't feel like that (now).''
The Devils have been a nemesis for the Flyers. New Jersey, which has won the
Stanley Cup three times since 1995, has eliminated the Flyers in the conference
finals twice in that span.
Devils coach Pat Burns didn't want to hear about the Flyers' supposed edge
entering the playoffs.
``Don't play that psychological stuff with me,'' he said. ``I'll leave that
up to Hitch.''
The Flyers got another strong performance from Esche, who seems to be
peaking heading into the playoffs. He's started six of the last eight games,
including both starts this week against the Devils.
Sean Burke, 11 years older than Esche, is set to start Sunday at Pittsburgh.
Esche made a nice save off a three-on-one break, deflecting Jiri Bicek's
shot off his glove late in the first period. He came up big early in the
second, stopping a flurry of shots when the Devils swarmed the net and
smothered two quick shots in the crease midway through the third.
Esche started the season sharing goaltending duties with Jeff Hackett, who
has since retired because of vertigo. Esche wasn't even the Flyers' goalie
during the playoffs last season, beaten out by Roman Cechmanek who was traded
to Los Angeles in May.
Hitchcock said the Flyers should have stuck with Esche last year.
``We knew what we had halfway through last year,'' he said. ``We succumbed
to the pressure to put another guy in. I think we could have accelerated if we
put Robert in, and I would have held to what my head and heart were telling
Esche won the last two games against the Devils, while Hackett lost twice
and tied once. Antero Niittymaki, called up from the minors when Esche was
injured, had the other victory.
Ragnarsson's quick shot from the blue line through a screen seemed to
surprise Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. The shot flew past over Brodeur's glove
and went in for what proved to be the winner.
Brodeur had 19 saves. The Devils pulled him for the final minute.
``We were pretty confident playing Jersey,'' Ragnarsson said. ``We know we
can get to Brodeur a little bit. We can get into his face.''
Simon Gagne gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead only 1:36 into the game with his 20th
goal of the year.
The Devils tied it with 4:32 left in the second period when the puck knocked
off the back of Scott Gomez's stick and Philadelphia's Todd Fedoruk kicked it
past Esche with his skate. It was Gomez's 10th goal.
``Right now it's in their hands,'' Gomez said. ``They hold their own
destiny. There's still al of hockey left. They have a lot of tough hockey games
coming up, but so do we.''