Philadelphia 4, Pittsburgh 2

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PHILADELPHIA (TICKER) —The return of John LeClair was worth the wait for the Philadelphia Flyers.

LeClair scored his second goal of the game seven minutes into the third period to snap a tie and lift the Flyers to a 4-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are winless in their last 14 games.

It was the third multi-goal game of the season for LeClair, who has five tallies in as many contests since a 47-game absence due to shoulder surgery.

While on the power play, LeClair took a pass on the doorstep from Michal Handzus and flipped a high shot past the stick side of rookie goaltender Sebastien Caron at 7:06.

“It was just a great pass by Michal,” LeClair said. “I was able to get some position and Michal made a great pass.”

LeClair knotted the game midway through the second when his pass intended for Handzus caromed off Caron for his 700th NHL point.

“He is the best left wing in the league over the last five years,” said teammate Tony Amonte. “He is always around the net trying to jam the puck in. He’s a hungry player.”

Defenseman Eric Desjardins and Amonte also scored and Mark Recchi had three assists for the Flyers, who improved to 18-1-0 in the last 19 home meetings with the Penguins.

Rico Fata and Mathias Johansson tallied for Pittsburgh, which fell to 0-13-1 since an overtime victory over St. Louis on February 22.

“We got some bad breaks and we got behind the eight-ball,” former Flyer Kent Manderville said. “We came out well and buried some of our chances, but we couldn’t sustain it. It was a nice start for us, but you want to hold a lead like that.”

After falling behind by two goals six minutes into Tuesday’s loss to Buffalo, the Flyers experienced a case of deja vu, surrendering two tallies in the first 4:06.

Just 13 seconds into the contest, Fata put a shot from the bottom of the right faceoff circle between the pads of Robert Esche for his second goal in three games.

“(Fata) kind of made a decent play,” Esche said. “It sounds stupid because it was a bad goal no matter how you look at it. There was a guy I saw out of the corner of my eye coming down and he rolled his wrists over and he went five-hole instead of making the pass. He fooled me.”

With Flyers defenseman Eric Weinrich serving a slashing penalty, the Penguins pelted Esche with several shots before Johansson grabbed his own rebound and lifted it over the fallen goalie for a quick 2-0 advantage.

“I’m concerned with our starts,” Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We’ve had two games in a row where we haven’t started like we wanted to. We’re chasing the game from behind the eight-ball.”

Winners of four straight home meetings with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia halved the deficit less than six minutes later when Desjardins blasted a slap shot from the right faceoff dot past Caron’s stick side.

After LeClair’s tallies put the Flyers ahead, Amonte redirected Desjardins’ feed from low in the right circle by Caron with 2:40 left in the third, doubling Philadelphia’s lead and giving him four goals and eight points in five games since being acquired from Phoenix a day before the March 11 trade deadline.

Making his second consecutive start for the injured Roman Cechmanek, Esche was solid the rest of the way, stopping 11 shots over the final two periods to halt a personal six-game losing streak.

“It feels good to get a win,” Esche said. “You know as well as I how long it has been.”

“He got better as it went on. It was a tough start,” Hitchcock added. “But it’s the work you have to put in. It’s not easy coming back from a tough outing.”

Superstar Mario Lemieux collected an assist for just his third point in the last eight games as the Penguins came within four losses or ties of matching the longest winless slide in team history.

“This is a tough time for the franchise, and we’ve just got to do the best we can right now,” Lemieux said. “I think we’re playing a little bit uptight late in the game, especially when the game is tied. … All we’ve got to do is win one and the guys can relax a little bit.”

The win tied the Flyers with New Jersey for first place in the Atlantic Division, but the Devils have played one fewer game and hold the tiebreaker with two more wins.

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Goalie Team Shot Save
Robert Esche PHI 23 21