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GAME: Edmonton Oilers (15-11-2) at Philadelphia Flyers (16-6-4).

TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EST.

Antero Niittymaki is making the loss of starting goalie Robert Esche much easier on the Philadelphia Flyers.

Coming off his first career shutout, Niittymaki looks to continue making the most of his playing time when the Flyers host the Edmonton Oilers.

Niittymaki stopped every shot he faced in regulation, overtime and a shootout Tuesday night, giving the Flyers a 1-0 victory over Calgary in the NHL's first scoreless game decided by a shootout.

"You want to make those saves when the whole crowd is focused on you," Niittymaki said. "I was happy to make them for the fans. They were excited and I was excited we could get the win that way."

Esche hasn't played since a 2-1 win over New Jersey on Nov. 30, and remains out until at least next week with a torn tendon in his right groin, pressing Niittymaki into full-time duty. Mike Richards had the lone goal in Tuesday's shootout after Niittymaki stopped 28 Calgary shots.

"I kind of had a move in mind and I went with it," said Richards, who scored on a backhand shot. "I've kind of been doing that for the last 10 years of my life. I tried to stick with what works and thankfully, it worked and we got the win."

Edmonton hasn't played since Saturday's 5-4 overtime loss to Boston. The Oilers squandered a three-goal lead.

"We're back feeling like we got run over by a semi right now," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "We outshot them almost 2-to-1 and we must have outchanced them 3-to-1."

Edmonton outshot its opponent for a fifth straight game, 40-26, dropping to 3-2 during that stretch. Fernando Pisani scored two goals for the Oilers. Four of Pisani's six goals this season have come in the third period, including one Saturday.

STANDINGS (through Dec. 7): Oilers - 32 points, 4th place, 6 PB, Northwest Division. Flyers - 36 points, 2nd place, 4 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Oilers - Ryan Smyth, 13 goals; Shawn Horcoff, 23 assists and 27 points; Ethan Moreau, 47 PIM. Flyers - Simon Gagne, 23 goals; Peter Forsberg, 31 assists and 39 points; Joni Pitkanen, 42 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 7): Oilers - Power play: 17.6 percent (29 for 164), 17th (tied) in NHL. Penalty killing: 81.8 percent (135 for 165), 18th (tied). Flyers - Power play: 19.6 percent (33 for 168), 6th (tied). Penalty killing: 77.3 percent (126 for 163), 30th.

GOALTENDERS: Oilers - Jussi Markkanen (10-9-2, 0 SO, 3.09 GAA); Mike Morrison (4-1-0, 0, 1.75). Flyers - Esche (10-4-2, 0, 3.18); Niittymaki (6-2-2, 1, 3.02).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Oilers, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 10, 2004; Oilers, 3-0. At Philadelphia, Tommy Salo stopped 26 shots and Mike York had a goal and an assist for Edmonton, which has won three of its last four visits to Philadelphia.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Oilers - 9-7-0 on the road; Flyers - 11-3-2 at home.

Associated Press
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