ST. PAUL, Minn. – With the usual offensive suspects either in the penalty box or stifled by the defence, the Philadelphia Flyers “other guys” came up big.
Fourth-line centre Jeff Carter had a goal and an assist, and the Flyers beat the Minnesota Wild 3-1 on Wednesday night for their fourth straight road win.
“They were great. I really thought that whole line was good,” Flyers coach John Stevens said. “(Scottie) Upshall had good jump. We got great minutes out of the fourth line there. … They looked very comfortable early on there. We got a lot of good things from a lot of different areas of our hockey team.”
Minnesota, riding a four-game winning streak, was kept in check by the Flyers despite a decided advantage in power-play minutes. The Flyers, behind 28 saves by Antero Niittymaki, held Minnesota to just one power-play goal in eight opportunities, including a pair of extended two-man advantages.
The win moved Philadelphia into a tie with the idle New York Rangers atop the Atlantic Division. The Flyers have now won nine road games, but only six at home.
“The thing is we play a simple game on the road. That’s the key,” Niittymaki said. “We go home and we try too much, try to play a little silly game. I think this is the way we should play, just good defence and get great turnovers and score from there.”
Pavol Demitra scored for the Wild, and Niklas Backstrom made 22 saves.
The game marked the return of Flyers forward Steve Downie, who served a 20-game suspension for a hit to the head of Ottawa Senators defenceman Dean McAmmond during the pre-season. Downie logged four minutes, 39 seconds of ice time and recorded no shots or penalty minutes.
Carter scored four goals in the Flyers’ first five games of the season, but had only one goal since Nov. 8 prior to Wednesday.
His shot on goal in the first period started a scramble in front of Backstrom that ended when the puck bounced off Backstrom’s leg and into the net. Upshall was credited with the goal.
Midway through the first period, Carter scored on a backhander after he was left uncovered in front of Backstrom, giving the Flyers a 2-0 lead.
After NHL officials put the Flyers on notice for hard hits earlier in the week, the referees seemed determined to reinforce that message early in the game.
“We talked about it,” Flyers captain Jason Smith said about the warning from the league office. “We have to be a hard team to play against. We’ve got to be physical, and we have to get to the forecheck and be physical in the defensive zone. But, obviously we have been involved in some incidents that are outside the rules. We have to make sure we are playing on that edge, but not costing us.”
Within 86 seconds of the opening faceoff, the Flyers’ two leading scorers, Daniel Briere and Mike Richards, were in the penalty box and Minnesota had a 5-on-3 power play for more than a minute.
The Wild appeared to have taken the lead when Aaron Voros’ shot from the top of the crease disappeared beneath goalie Antero Niittymaki. The referee closest to the play signalled goal, but a video review couldn’t find evidence that the puck had crossed the goal line. It was one of many frustrating moments for the Minnesota power play.
“When you don’t move, you can’t get great scoring chances,” Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. “I felt that we stopped doing things.”
Minnesota got on the board for real in the opening minute of the second period, when Pavol Demitra deflected Brian Rolston’s shot past Niittymaki on a power play. It was Demitra’s first goal since Nov. 1, and his first since returning from missing nine games in November with a groin injury.
“It was one of those games when we treaded water,” Rolston said. “Once we get down 3-1 we start trying to do things that we don’t do. We try to carry it through the neutral zone or make little passes that don’t work.”
Defenceman Braydon Coburn, who recently signed a contract extension, scored his first goal of the season to put Philadelphia back up by two. His slap shot from outside the blue line fooled Backstrom, sailing into the upper right corner of the net. It was Coburn’ first goal since March 31 against the Rangers.
Notes: Flyers forward Jim Dowd was one of the original members of the Wild, and played nearly 300 games for Minnesota before being traded to Montreal in 2004. The Flyers are his 10th NHL team. … Wild captain Mark Parrish missed his third consecutive game because of a hip injury. … Nick Schultz started the game on defence for Minnesota, but left the ice after taking a puck to the throat in the first period. He spent Wednesday night in a hospital and will not travel on Minnesota’s upcoming road trip to Detroit and Columbus.