PHILADELPHIA – Given a chance to grab a firm hold of the starting job, Martin Biron has assured there won’t be any goalie controversy in Philadelphia.
Biron made 39 saves, Arron Asham scored two goals, and the Flyers beat the New York Rangers 4-2 on Saturday. “Marty was terrific,” Flyers coach John Stevens said. “It was probably his best performance of the year.”
Mike Richards and Scott Hartnell also had goals for Philadelphia, which improved its hold on the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference with its third win in four games.
Nik Antropov and Sean Avery scored for New York, which could have moved into a tie for fourth with Philadelphia by sweeping the home-and-home weekend series. The top four teams get home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, the Rangers are in a fight for a playoff spot. Five teams were separated by four points near the post-season cutoff going into Saturday’s games.
“I thought we were outstanding for 30-35 minutes of that game, but then I think we struggled with some basic stuff for a number of minutes so it’s just consistency,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “We did some good things for a number of minutes, but it’s not good enough to get a win.”
Just a few weeks ago, the Flyers didn’t have a clear-cut No. 1 goalie. Antero Niittymaki had played well and it appeared Stevens might have a tough decision going into the playoffs. There was even talk Biron might be dealt before the trade deadline.
But Biron has been impressive while making four straight starts, going 3-1 with a .948 save percentage. He was at his best against the Rangers, especially during a power play in the second period. Fans showed their appreciation by chanting “Marty! Marty!”
“I felt like I was reacting quick on the puck,” Biron said. “It was all about quick reaction.”
Niittymaki is expected to start when the teams meet again at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. The Rangers won’t mind seeing someone else in net.
“Biron played well,” Tortorella said. “We had numerous chances there but we didn’t bury them.”
Richards put the Flyers ahead 2-1 when he scored his 27th goal of the season in the second off a 2-on-1 breakaway. Kimmo Timonen’s pass to Simon Gagne started the odd-man rush. Henrik Lundqvist stopped Gagne’s shot and the initial rebound attempt by Richards, who put it in on his second chance.
Heavyweights Riley Cote and Colton Orr dropped the gloves a few minutes later, inciting the sellout crowd. The Rangers’ Orr landed a couple hard shots early before Cote got a few jabs in and drove his opponent to the ice.
The Rangers had the tying goal waved off in the second because the puck hit off Scott Gomez’s glove and knee before going in.
Asham gave the Flyers a two-goal cushion early in the third, scoring off a perfect, behind-the-net centring pass from Claude Giroux. He fired a slap shot past Lundqvist to make it 4-1 later in the third. Avery’s goal cut it to 4-2 with 3:41 remaining, scoring in his second straight game.
“I throw one out once a year,” Asham said of his first two-goal effort this season.
The Rangers went ahead 1-0 early in the first when Antropov capitalized on a turnover by Flyers defenceman Matt Carle.
Antropov blocked a shot by Carle at the Rangers blue line and went the other way, outracing Gagne on the breakaway. Antropov faked a backhander and beat Biron with a forehanded shot for his second goal since joining the Rangers before the trade deadline.
Hartnell scored his third goal in three games to tie it at 1 in the first. Joffrey Lupul started a two-on-one breakaway by flicking a backhanded pass to Jeff Carter, who streaked down the right side with Hartnell opposite. Lundqvist stopped Carter’s shot, but the rebound kicked out to Hartnell. He fired it in for his 25th goal, tying a career-best.
“Every game right now is important for us,” Lundqvist said. “We need the points. We did a lot of good things, but it wasn’t enough. We got caught too low a couple of times and they took advantage of it. Their transition game is pretty good. When you lose pucks down low, they’re pretty good turning that into scoring chances.”
Notes: The Rangers are 4-3-1 since Tortorella replaced fired coach Tom Renney. … Stevens earned his 100th NHL victory. … The Flyers have allowed the first goal in six of seven games. … Hartnell previously scored 25 goals with Nashville in the 2005-06 season. … Lundqvist is 8-5-2 against Philadelphia. … The teams play three more times this season.