PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Robert Esche provided a timely boost for a team in
desperate need of defense.
Esche made 24 saves for his third shutout this season, leading the
Philadelphia Flyers to a 3-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Saturday.
Playing without three top defensemen, who are injured, the Flyers relied
heavily on the goaltender they expect to be in net when the postseason begins.
``His game is right on the mark right now,'' Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock
said. ``For him personally, he'd probably like the playoffs to start tomorrow.
But for us, if they started a month from now, that would be great.''
Claude Lapointe and Simon Gagne scored first-period goals for the Flyers,
who defeated the Rangers for the fifth time this season and moved within one
point of Tampa Bay for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia also extended its Atlantic-Division lead to six points over New
Jersey, which played at Montreal later Saturday.
``Our goal is to win the division first,'' Flyers right wing Mark Recchi
said. ``If there's an opportunity to be first in the conference, we learned
from last year that you have to try to get the highest seed you can.''
Esche bounced back from one of his worst outings of the season _ three goals
allowed on 14 shots in Thursday's home loss to Toronto _ to record his eighth
career shutout and first in eight starts since missing almost all of February
with a sprained knee.
``The other night, I thought I made bigger saves than I did in today's
game,'' Esche said. ``Today, I didn't give up any goals, but that doesn't
necessarily mean I played well. I think there's some things I have to work
The Rangers, winless in five games (0-4-0-1), were eliminated from playoff
contention for the seventh straight season.
Inside New York's quiet locker room after the loss, captain Mark Messier
reflected on what has been another disappointing season for a team that was no
higher than seventh in the East all season.
``When you play 82 games to get to the playoffs, it's disappointing for the
guys who have been around for a while,'' Messier said. ``But you still have a
responsibility every time you go out on the ice to play hard and the best you
Lapointe was whistled for hooking 1:55 in. After the Flyers killed the
penalty, Lapointe got the rebound off a shot by Patrick Sharp and tapped the
puck past goalie Jamie McLennan for the game's first goal.
The Flyers made it 2-0 at 13:19 of the first period when Alexei Zhamnov
flipped a pass over the stick of Rangers defenseman Fedor Tyutin to Tony
Amonte. Amonte gloved the puck and passed across the crease to Gagne, who was
waiting at the right post.
Gagne redirected the pass with his skate, but then grazed the top of the
puck with his stick as it crossed the goal line for his 22nd goal and third in
The Rangers put immediate pressure on Philadelphia to start the second.
Esche stopped three shots from point-blank range in the opening 2:30 of the
period and Jan Hlavac hit the right post minutes later.
Esche made a glove save on Jaromir Jagr's wrist shot 44 seconds into the
third to preserve the lead.
Mattias Timander added an empty-net, short-handed goal _ his first goal with
the Flyers _ with 44.4 seconds left.
New York went 0-for-5 on the power play and has not scored in 14
opportunities. The Flyers, who led the NHL in power-play efficiency, were also
0-for-5 and are 1-for-13 in their last two games.
``With the way our power play sets up, sometimes we aren't going to get
goals,'' Hitchcock said. ``I'm not concerned, though.''