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GAME: New Jersey Devils (36-21-11-2) at Philadelphia Flyers (36-17-13-6).

TIME: Saturday, 3 p.m. EST.

There is no goaltending controversy for the Philadelphia Flyers. Robert Esche is making sure of that.

Esche looks to get the best of Martin Brodeur for the second time in five days when the Flyers host the New Jersey Devils in a key Atlantic Division matchup.

Since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him nearly a month, Esche is 3-0-2 while allowing 10 goals. The Flyers acquired veteran goalie Sean Burke from Phoenix while he was injured, but Esche's play has left coach Ken Hitchcock no choice but to leave him as the starter for the playoffs.

"He is really playing well right now," Hitchcock said. "He is really focused and meeting the challenge. These are good teams we're playing, and he is matching every goalie."

Esche stopped 37 of 39 shots in a 2-2 tie against Dallas on Thursday, but wasn't happy that he allowed Brenden Morrow's tying goal with 35 seconds left in regulation.

"There's no excuse," Esche said. "I have to find a way to stop that puck. I never saw it. Still, we have to hold ourselves to higher standards. Tonight is a tough point to give away, but at least we did get a point."

Esche hopes to beat the Devils again after outplaying Brodeur in a 3-1 victory at New Jersey on Tuesday. Esche had 20 saves while Brodeur made 17.

A win Saturday would extend Philadelphia's lead over the Devils in the Atlantic to eight points with nine games remaining. It would also give the Flyers a win in the season series against New Jersey for just the second time in the last seven years.

Tony Amonte scored one goal and set up another Thursday, helping Philadelphia move to 4-0-1 in its last five at home.

Although New Jersey rebounded from Tuesday's loss with a 6-4 victory over visiting Chicago on Thursday, Brodeur was not pleased with his team's performance.

"If we play defensively the way we did tonight, we're going to get killed," Brodeur said. "It doesn't matter. We need to play a better overall game."

Patrik Elias continued his torrid scoring with a pair of third-period goals for the Devils, 3-4-0-1 since a three-game win streak.

"We lost a big one the other night," New Jersey's Turner Stevenson said. "We've still got two games in hand on them. If we can get that one, we've got a real shot of getting back in it. We need that game on Saturday."

Elias is one of the league's hottest players, with 13 goals and seven assists in his past 12 games.

Already missing captain Scott Stevens, the Devils are hopeful that fellow defenseman Brian Rafalski can return to the lineup Saturday. Rafalski was scratched Thursday after bruising his right knee Tuesday.

STANDINGS: Devils - 85 points, 2nd place, 6 PB, Atlantic Division. Flyers - 91 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Devils - Elias, 33 goals and 65 points; Scott Gomez, 46 assists; Colin White, 83 PIM. Flyers - Mark Recchi, 26 goals, 41 assists and 67 points; Donald Brashear, 191 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 11): Devils - Power play: 15.6 percent (40 for 257), 20th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.0 percent (198 for 233), 7th. Flyers - Power play: 23.5 percent (61 for 260), 1st. Penalty killing: 83.4 percent (252 for 302), 20th.

GOALTENDERS: Devils - Brodeur (33-22-10, 10 SO, 2.07 GAA); Scott Clemmensen (1-1-0, 1, 1.53). Flyers - Esche (19-7-6, 2, 1.92); Burke (14-20-6, 1, 2.85).


LAST MEETING: March 9; Flyers, 3-1. At East Rutherford, N.J., John LeClair set up goals by Recchi and Kim Johnsson in a 2:28 span bridging the first and second periods.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Devils - 17-9-7-1 on the road; Flyers - 22-7-3-3 at home.

Associated Press
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