- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

TAMPA, Fla. — The Philadelphia Flyers broke through the Bulin Wall and charged back into the Eastern Conference finals.

Proving Nikolai Khabi-bulin just seems impenetrable, the Flyers scored three times in the first 12 minutes and went on to rout the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2 last night to even the best-of-7 series at one game apiece.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They’re such a good team that you have to maintain a really high level. If you do that, you have a chance to beat them.”

John LeClair scored to end his puzzling playoff drought and goalie Robert Esche outplayed Khabibulin in a game Philadelphia felt it had to win.

Mark Recchi, Sami Kapanen and Vladimir Malakhov also scored to build a 4-0 lead, drive Khabibulin from the game and ensure the Flyers would stop Tampa Bay’s eight-game winning streak in the playoffs.

“It was pretty ugly,” Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle said. “We can throw that tape away because we don’t want to see that one again.”

The Flyers also halted an eight-game slide against the Lightning that included four losses during the regular season and a 3-1 setback in Game 1 Saturday.

Game 3 is Thursday night in Philadelphia, where the Flyers are 6-0 in the postseason.

“We now have a chance to control our destiny,” Hitchcock said. “If we can win our home games, we’ve got a chance.”

Esche, helped by the Flyers’ ability to clog the middle of the ice and limit scoring opportunities for Tampa Bay’s potent offense, stopped 29 shots to improve to 9-4 in the playoffs.

Ruslan Fedotenko scored midway through the third period with Tampa Bay down 6-0. NHL scoring champion Martin St. Louis added a power-play goal with 2:42 to go.

“We won eight in a row and tonight we lost,” St. Louis said. “It’s a series now, and it’s 1-1. We’re not beat up mentally. … It’s just one game.”

Even though the Flyers weren’t facing elimination, they considered last night a must-win situation — in part because while they’re unbeaten at home in the playoffs, this is the first series they began on the road.

The sense of urgency was evident from the start.

LeClair scored on the first shot of the game, picking up the puck after Marcus Ragnarsson kicked it along the boards and skating in to beat Khabibulin from the left circle for his first playoff goal in 16 games, dating to last season.

“I should have stopped that shot,” Khabibulin said. “I’ve got to play better next time.”

Recchi made it 2-0, redirecting Ragnarsson’s shot on the power play past Khabibulin with 11:10 left in the opening period. Three minutes later, Kapanen’s short-handed goal pushed the Lightning into a deeper hole.

Khabibulin began the night with a 1.00 goals-against average and four shutouts in the playoffs, one more than he had during the entire regular season. The Flyers scored on four of 12 shots against the Russian goaltender, who was replaced by John Grahame with 13:58 remaining in the second period.

“Habby’s not going to stop them all,” Boyle said. “We got stunned early and we never recuperated.”

Michal Handzus scored against the Tampa Bay backup late in the second and Mattias Timander added an unassisted goal less than four minutes into the third period.

The loss was Tampa Bay’s first since Game 2 of its first-round series against the New York Islanders. The Flyers were confident they could even the series after dominating the first half of Game 1, when they outshot Tampa Bay 20-17 but faltered because of defensive miscues and an inability score more than one goal against Khabibulin.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide