TAMPA, Fla. (AP)—The Philadelphia Flyers broke through the Bulin Wall and charged back into the Eastern Conference finals.
Proving Nikolai Khabibulin just seems impenetrable, the Flyers scored three times in the first 12 minutes and went on to rout the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2 Monday night to even the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They’re such a good team that you have to maintain a really high level. If you do that, you have a chance to beat them.”
“It was pretty ugly,” Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle said. “We can throw that tape away because we don’t want to see that one again.”
The Flyers also halted an eight-game slide against the Lightning that included four losses during the regular season and a 3-1 setback in Game 1 Saturday.
Game 3 is Thursday night in Philadelphia, where the Flyers are 6-0 in the postseason.
“We now have a chance to control our destiny,” Hitchcock said. “If we can win our home games, we’ve got a chance.”
Esche, helped by the Flyers’ ability to clog the middle of the ice and limit scoring opportunities for Tampa Bay’s potent offense, stopped 29 shots to improve to 9-4 in the playoffs.
“We won eight in a row and tonight we lost,” St. Louis said. “It’s a series now, and it’s 1-1. We’re not beat up mentally. … It’s just one game.”
Even though the Flyers weren’t facing elimination, they considered Monday night a must-win situation—in part because while they’re unbeaten at home in the playoffs, this is the first series they began on the road.
The sense of urgency was evident from the start.
LeClair scored on the first shot of the game, picking up the puck after Marcus Ragnarsson kicked it along the boards and skating in to beat Khabibulin from the left circle for his first playoff goal in 16 games, dating to last season.
“I should have stopped that shot,” Khabibulin said. “I’ve got to play better next time.”
Recchi made it 2-0, redirecting Ragnarsson’s shot on the power play past Khabibulin with 11:10 left in the opening period. Three minutes later, Kapanen’s short-handed goal pushed the Lightning into a deeper hole.
Khabibulin began the night with a 1.00 goals-against average and four shutouts in the playoffs, one more than he had during the entire regular season. The Flyers scored on four of 12 shots against the Russian goaltender, who was replaced by John Grahame with 13:58 remaining in the second period.
“Habby’s not going to stop them all,” Boyle said. “We got stunned early and we never recuperated.”
The loss was Tampa Bay’s first since Game 2 of its first-round series against the New York Islanders. The Flyers were confident they could even the series after dominating the first half of Game 1, when they outshot Tampa Bay 20-17 but faltered because of defensive miscues and an inability score morethan one goal against Khabibulin.
Ragnarsson had three assists. … Malakhov’s goal, which ended Khabibulin’s night, was his first in the playoffs since May 6, 2000 against Toronto, a span of 26 games. … Philadelphia was 0-for-18 on power play opportunities before Recchi’s goal. … The Flyers have outscored opponents 16-3 in the first period during the playoffs. The second period has been Tampa Bay’s strongest, with the Lightning holding a 14-4 edge after giving up two Monday night. … New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner purchased 350 tickets for military personnel stationed at nearby MacDill Air Force Base, as well as some of the families of service men and women fighting the war inIraq.