Knuble’s late heroics lead Flyers over Thrashers

PHILADELPHIA (Ticker) — The Atlanta Thrashers thought they
finally might solve Antero Niittymaki and the Philadelphia
Flyers. But then Mike Knuble took over.

Knuble scored twice in the second half of the third period as
the Flyers squandered a three-goal lead before posting a 5-3
victory over the Thrashers on Wednesday.

Scott Hartnell, Darroll Powe and defenseman Randy Jones also
tallied while All-Star Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne each notched
a pair of assists for Philadelphia, which extended its winning
streak against Atlanta to 13 games.

“It was big to come away with these two points,” Jones said.
“It’s a team that’s below us in the standings, and those games
are always important.”

Antero Niittymaki made 28 saves in improving his career record
vs. the Thrashers to 12-0-0.

“I don’t know what it is,” the Finn said. “It’s just one of
those things that just happens. It’s been close a couple times
this year. The last game, they tied it up in the third and we
were able to win it. You never know, but hopefully we can keep
winning these games. I’ll enjoy it.”

Eric Perrin, captain Ilya Kovalchuk and Chris Thorburn scored
for Atlanta, which had its three-game winning streak snapped.

“It’s like deja vu,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said. “It’s
identical to the last game we played here, and it’s unfortunate.
We hit three goalposts, missed on a round of breakaways. We
were creating chances. We just need to get a little tighter in
our own zone – it might have meant the difference.”

Trailing, 3-0, after two periods, things were looking bleak for
the Thrashers, who entered with just on regulation win in 17
all-time visits to the City of Brotherly Love. But Perrin got
Atlanta on the scoreboard at 4:42 of the third, and Kovalchuk
and Thorburn scored 61 seconds apart midway through the session
to forge a 3-3 tie and silence the crowd at the Wachovia Center.

“We made a commitment to play our system and get pucks to the
net,” Thorburn said. “You saw what we can do when everybody is
on the same page and we make simple plays. We were able to get
the pucks through.”

“To see a three-goal lead evaporate like that going into (the
All-Star) break was the last thing we wanted to see,’
Philadelphia coach John Stevens said.

Determined not to suffer a heartbreaking loss in their last game
before the break, the Flyers reclaimed the lead with 7:48
remaining. After his first shot from the right faceoff circle
was denied by Kari Lehtonen, Knuble grabbed his own rebound and
beat the Finnish goaltender from the right side of the net for
his 17th goal of the season.

“It felt like a normal attack, but I think our guys read the
play differently, and Knuble was by himself,” Lehtonen said. “I
was able to make the first save, but I didn’t see where the puck
went. He saw the puck and was able to get it into the net.”

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“I’m thankful that we stepped up and came right back and scored
a goal,” Stevens said.

Flyers captain Mike Richards was thrilled to see Knuble put his
team back in front, for a somewhat selfish reason.

“The first goal (by Atlanta) was my fault,” Richards admitted.
“It kind of got the ball rolling the other way. It was my
fault. I turned the puck over.”

Richards also was not shocked Philadelphia was able to overcome
the lapse.

“We’ve been in that situation before, where we’ve blown leads
and given up goals early in the game,” he said. “It wasn’t
surprising that we were able to come back.”

After Niittymaki made several superb saves, Knuble completed his
fourth two-goal performance of the season by depositing the puck
into an empty net with 41 seconds to go.

“If bad things happen, you just go out and try to do something
positive and try and accomplish something,” Knuble said. “We’re
still in control of the game. We were playing well. We just
had some lackluster play there for 10 minutes in the third.”

Hartnell opened the scoring at 9:54 of the first.

From along the left wing boards in his own zone, Todd White
attempted a pass that hit the skate of Carter. The puck went
right to Hartnell, who deked to his backhand before wrapping it
around the outstretched right leg of Lehtonen for his 17th of
the campaign.

Powe doubled the lead with 2:05 left in the session, putting a
backhander past Lehtonen from the low slot after receiving a
pass from above the left circle by Scottie Upshall.

“I thought that (fourth) line was terrific,” Stevens said. “I
thought they gave us a lot of energy. They made a lot of quick
plays, created offense and had energy all the time. … We need
them to step up and fill the void and look at it as an
opportunity, and I thought they did.”

Jones made it 3-0 just 1:44 into the middle period, when he
lifted a backhander into the net from below the right circle for
his first tally of the season.

Perrin began Atlanta’s comeback by grabbing a loose puck and
beating Niittymaki to the stick side.

“We’ve had a habit now of giving one up early in the third in
tight games,” Knuble said. “It’s because the break’s coming up
and you’re kind of looking past that third period and not taking
care of your play on the ice.”

Kovalchuk scored on a wrist shot from the right circle, and
Thorburn converted a breakaway chance, firing a low shot to the
glove side of Niittymaki to knot the contest.

“I just happened to get in front of Jones’ shot,” Thorburn said
of creating the breakaway. “It popped out to the neutral zone
and I just skated. I didn’t really think too much. I just shot
it and it went into the net.”

Lehtonen turned aside 28 shots.