Alexei Zhitnik scored the go-ahead goal while Robert Esche played a strong game in net to lead the Flyers past the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2, giving Philadelphia its second straight victory after a franchise record 10-game losing streak.
Ryan Potulny and Kyle Calder scored early in the third period for the Flyers, who were outshot 42-19 but were opportunistic enough to overcome that deficit. Philadelphia, which has beaten Tampa Bay and Carolina in the past week, sealed it with an empty-netter from Mike Knuble in the final minute.
Peter Forsberg also had three assists for the Flyers, and Esche finished with 40 saves.
It wasn’t the prettiest performance. Philadelphia needed a little help, getting a fluke bounce off the boards that set up Potulny’s score and a turnover on a Carolina surge that led to Calder’s quick breakaway chance.
Not that the Flyers were complaining.
“We’re having a tough season right now,” said Simon Gagne, who scored a first-period goal. “Tonight we didn’t have a lot of shots, but all those chances we had to put it in were big. They were big, big goals. We’re going to take it for sure.”
Esche took care of the defence for the Flyers, alternating between making routine stops and dazzling ones.
“I’ve always been an athletic goalie, and I’m never going to lose that whether I sit for a year or whether I sit for a day,” said Esche, who has been behind Antero Niittymaki this season. “I always have that in me, and I really have a competitive side of me that takes over when I’m playing well. And that’s been the case the last couple of days.”
His biggest came when he stopped a 1-on-1 chance by Ray Whitney with the Flyers leading 4-2 midway through the third period, then dove backward into the crease to secure the loose puck.
“We dominated the whole hockey game,” said Cam Ward, who finished with 14 saves for Carolina. “Give credit to Esche. He played outstanding and ultimately stole them a hockey game.”
It was an unlikely loss for the Hurricanes, who had won six of seven and were coming off a solid all-around effort in beating Anaheim – the NHL’s best team – Friday night. But instead of following up, the defending Stanley Cup champions stumbled to an embarrassing loss to the league’s worst team.
Whitney scored twice for the Hurricanes, who went 1-for-7 on the power play.
“It’s tough, one of those games,” Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. “You talk about playing the game the right way and hoping the results follow and they didn’t.
“We had backdoor opportunities. We had half-empty-net chances that we didn’t convert. Just a lot of opportunities and it didn’t bounce our way.”
With the score tied at 1 near the end of the second period, Forsberg corralled the puck deep in the zone and sent a pass to Todd Fedoruk as he skated toward the crease. The puck slipped through traffic to Zhitnik, who fired a shot past Ward – who was bumped by Forsberg near the top of the crease.
Philadelphia pushed the lead to 3-1 by taking advantage of a bad bounce along the boards. Instead of rolling around behind the net, the puck bounced out of the left corner and right to Fedoruk, who sent it to Potulny for a putaway against an out-of-position Ward early in the third.
Then – in a play that illustrated Philadelphia’s opportunism – the Flyers grabbed a loose puck off a bad between-the-legs pass by Rod Brind’Amour on a Carolina push and got it ahead to Calder for a quick breakaway. Calder carried it all the way and beat Ward for the 4-1 lead.
“We’ve got to find ways to win,” Calder said. “We weren’t finding ways to win at the beginning of the year. Now we are.”
Notes: Gagne’s goal was his 20th of the season. … Brind’Amour extended his scoring streak and has nine points in the past six games. … Philadelphia C Jeff Carter extended his scoring streak to five games by assisting on Calder’s breakaway. … Eric Belanger’s assists on Whitney’s goals were his first points in five games. … Knuble almost scored in the first period, batting a deflected puck past Ward and into the net. But the officials ruled that it was a high-stick, then upheld the ruling with a video replay.