PHILADELPHIA (AP)—With his smooth lateral movement and nifty glove saves, Antero Niittymaki is playing like someone who wants to be Philadelphia’s playoff goalie.
Niittymaki made 21 saves for the Flyers, who won for only the fifth time in 12 games. Philadelphia (86 points) is two points back of the Atlantic Division-leading Rangers, who will host the Flyers on Wednesday night in New York. Philadelphia is 2-3 against the Rangers this season.
“We have to play better than we did today up in New York,” Forsberg said. “It’s going to be a little tougher game than it was today.”
Coach Ken Hitchcock said he hasn’t decided if Niittymaki or Robert Esche will get the start against the Rangers.
Niittymaki continued to look sharp for the Flyers. He stopped left wing Jay Pandolfo twice in rapid succession in the second period, including a nice glove save on the second shot.
“He played great,” Pandolfo said. “He was the difference.”
The 25-year-old Niittymaki began the season as the backup to Esche. When Esche was injured at midseason, Niittymaki took over and has been outstanding. He led Finland to the silver medal at last month’s Olympics and became just the fifth first-year goalie in team history to record 20 wins.
“We’ve got two guys that the players trust and the coaches trust,” Hitchcock said. “It’s very unique for us. We have no problem playing either guy right now and at some period of time I’ll make a decision and run with it for the playoffs.
“But I have a lot of time to make that decision and I’m in no hurry to make it.”
Esche has been no slouch, either. He posted a shutout last week at Florida and has 17 wins this season. Hitchcock said he will not alternate goalies in the playoffs.
“Whoever’s playing has to play good, I guess,” Niittymaki said. “Everytime I get a chance to play I have to do my best. That’s the only thing I can do and worry about.”
Gagne wasted little time giving Philadelphia the lead, backhanding in a loose puck less than 2 minutes into the game. Gagne became the 12th Flyers player to reach 40 goals.
“That’s a big number,” Gagne said. “It was good to get this one. I don’t want to say I was not focusing on the game, but it will be a lot easier to focus.”
Forsberg, who sat out Saturday’s game at Atlanta with a mildly sprained knee, made it 2-0 on a power-play goal late in the second period, getting an open-net look. He is wearing a brace that he hopes to get rid of before the playoffs start.
“There are some big games coming up, and this was a big start for us to win the game,” Forsberg said.
Martin Brodeur had 19 saves for the Devils, who lost for the fourth time in five games.
“You just keep working,” Devils coach Lou Lamoriello said. “You can’t look back. I’m not worried about them pressing offensively. We know what we have to do.”
The Flyers beat New Jersey at home for the fifth straight game and have not lost to New Jersey at home since a 2-0 defeat on December 13, 2003. … John LeClair was the last Flyers player to score 40 goals, hitting that mark in the 1999-2000 season. It has been reached 35 times by 12 Flyers. … The Flyers improved to only 19-10-6 at home. … The Devils were 0-for-4 on the power play.