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Philadelphia Flyers vs. Atlanta Thrashers @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Philadelphia Flyers (27-12-11-5) at Atlanta Thrashers (21-26-6-2).

TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST.

With both Robert Esche and Jeff Hackett sidelined, Philadelphia Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock needs Antero Niittymaki to play like a veteran.

The rookie goalie did just that in an impressive NHL debut Wednesday. He'll look to deliver a similar performance when the Flyers visit the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena.

Esche sprained his right ankle during Monday's 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and is expected to miss at least three weeks. Hackett is out indefinitely with vertigo.

With both of his experienced goaltenders unable to play, Hitchcock was forced to turn to Niittymaki, who was 14-7-5 in 29 appearances for the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL.

Niittymaki made 19 saves Wednesday in a 5-1 win over the Washington Capitals.

"I felt better than I thought I would in my first NHL game," Niittymaki said. "It was a pretty easy night. I only faced 15 shots or so in the first two periods and they were pretty easy shots."

Hitchcock said he was impressed by the way the 23-year-old Finn handled himself.

"You're hopeful that he can do the same thing in a game (that he does in practice)," Hitchcock said. "He's technically sound and he did the right things with the puck. He kept it simple and we'll see how he looks tomorrow."

John LeClair, Simon Gagne, Kim Johnsson, Mark Recchi and Keith Primeau scored to help the Flyers regain the top spot in the Eastern Conference and increase their Atlantic Division lead to three points over New Jersey.

The Thrashers are winless in their last seven games, going 0-5-2 in that span, including a 5-4 loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday.

Atlanta's Dany Heatley scored his first goal since recovering from a car accident that killed teammate Dan Snyder last summer.

"It felt good," Heatley said. "It would have been better to get a win. But, I'm back in the scoring column."

Heatley has played four games since being activated from the injured list. He missed the season's first 51 games while recovering from various injures suffered in the crash, including a broken jaw and torn ligaments in his right knee.

"He was out four months. He's not in the best shape," teammate Ilya Kovalchuk said. "But he's going to get better and better every game."

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