PHILADELPHIA – Two weeks on the road left the Flyers primed for a raucous return home.
Did they ever deliver against Minnesota. Philadelphia killed off every power-play attempt, ended Niklas Backstrom’s bid for three straight shutouts and, oh yeah, took sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division.
Mike Knuble, Scott Hartnell and Scottie Upshall scored goals and the Flyers returned home from two weeks on the road to beat the Wild 3-1 on Thursday night.
“We wanted to climb into playoff position and try and climb up in our division and we have done that,” coach John Stevens said.
Hartnell’s tying goal in the second period ended Backstrom’s shot at three straight shutouts. Backstrom, selected to the Western Conference all-star team this week, stretched his shutout streak to 149 minutes, 9 seconds before Hartnell flipped a loose puck past him early in the second.
Knuble put the Flyers ahead early in the third period on Philadelphia’s first power-play opportunity, and Upshall added his sixth goal to help the Flyers win their seventh straight home game.
With the victory, the Flyers took sole possession of the Atlanta Division lead, two points ahead of the New York Rangers.
“It’s tough when you get back because you can get complacent after a long road trip when you get back home,” Flyers centre Mike Richards said. “But we could find our energy from the crowd and had a couple different players step up.”
The Flyers hadn’t played at home since Dec. 23 and went 2-2-2 on a six game, 12-day trip. They returned to a familiar setting – another packed, orange-clad crowd, chants of “Let’s go Fly-ers!” and more home dominance. The Flyers are 11-0-2 in their last 13 games at the Wachovia Center and play there two more times before heading back on the road.
They might have former all-star Danny Briere back in the lineup before they pack their bags again. Briere has played in only nine games this season because of groin injuries, but is close to a return.
Martin Biron had 27 saves for the Flyers.
“I think we took our time to get going, but we stuck to the game plan and started skating and it made a big difference,” Biron said.
Backstrom was coming off shutouts against Colorado and Boston and entered with a shutout streak of 121:59. He kept the Flyers scoreless in the first and needed only a scoreless minute in the second period to beat his previous personal best time of 142:57.
Hartnell, though, caught him with his 16th goal of the season 7:10 into the period to make it 1-1 and end the scoreless stretch at 149:09. He finished with 20 saves.
“When you lose you can’t be happy. You don’t care about the shutouts,” Backstrom said. “When you go out there you want to win the game and we lost today and that’s the only thing that matters.”
The Wild had supported Backstrom with a solid power play, scoring at least one goal with a line advantage in four straight games. The power play miserably failed in this one, as the Wild went 0-for-4 in the second period against Biron and failed to convert on all eight opportunities.
“You can’t have (eight) power play and don’t barely get a couple of chances to score,” Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. “You can’t win games, it’s impossible.”
Backstrom fell flat on his back trying to stave off a Flyers’ push in the third, but Knuble poked his jabbed his stick in behind him and knocked his 15th goal for a 2-1 lead. The goal came only seven seconds into the Flyers’ first power-play opportunity of the game.
“Once again, special teams won us a hockey game,” Richards said.
Upshall sealed the win with his sixth goal of the season.
Stephane Veilleux gave the Wild a 1-0 lead in the first period on a one-timer. Minnesota fell to 10-2-1 against the East this season and 6-1 since Oct. 30.
Notes: Flyers C Jeff Carter was added to the Eastern Conference all-star team. … This is the only game of the season between the two teams. … Each of Veilleux’s six goals have either tied the game or given the Wild the lead. … The Wild hadn’t played at Philadelphia since Dec. 10, 2005. … Knuble scored his 200th point with the Flyers.