PHILADELPHIA (AP)—Martin Biron’s 25th career shutout meant more than reaching a personal milestone.
It gave him the edge in the Philadelphia Flyers’ competition for the No. 1 goalie—for a game, at least.
“I’ve had some close ones,” Biron said. “We have a big wall in our hallway here reminding us of all the milestone. I know they’ll be putting my name on the wall, which is going to be nice.”
With their seventh win in nine games, the Flyers moved them within four points of New Jersey for third place in the Eastern Conference.
They’ll get there or miss out with Biron or backup Antero Niittymaki—or both—leading the way.
“I don’t really know too many teams that get in the playoffs with only one guy pulling the load,” Biron said. “We both want to play every night, we both want to get in there and lead the team. Some nights, you’re going to have to be supportive.”
Other nights, you record the shutout.
Coach John Stevens told the goalies they’d both get the chance to play down the stretch and they needed to be Philadelphia’s best players.
Arguably, the last two nights they have been.
Niittymaki made 35 saves in Philadelphia’s 4-2 win Tuesday at Washington and now Biron follows with his first shutout since November.
“We’ve got confidence in both these guys right now, and I think we’re going to use them both from now to the end of the year,” Stevens said. “I think they’re both going to deserve a chance to get back in the net.”
Biron’s strong postseason keyed Philadelphia’s run last year to the Eastern Conference finals, and he entered this season as the clear cut No. 1 goalie. He slumped in late January—four straight losses—and Niittymaki (14 wins) was solid in his starts.
Biron’s mental gaffe against Pittsburgh last week, when he drifted out to the circle, couldn’t contain the puck and the Penguins scored the winner, certainly didn’t help his bid to earn Stevens’ faith.
A shutout can do wonders.
“My focus right now is getting our team into the playoffs and I think by that time somebody’s going to take the lead role,” Stevens said.
Simon Gagne added his 23rd goal, an empty-netter with a second left.
Biron was kept busy, though not seriously threatened, in his second shutout of the season. The Kings took only nine shots in the third period, failed to convert on five power plays and suffered another hit in their chase for the eighth seed in the West.
There was little drama or action for most of this one, with Carter’s power-play goal late in the second period about the only reason for fans to get on their feet all game.
No big fights, no controversial penalties that drew the fans’ ire, no real breakaways stopped with the snap of a mitt.
“It’s a good sign to see your team not play its best, against a good L.A. team, and still find a way to win,” Stevens said.
Carter really gave the Philadelphia faithful a reason to make some noise toward the end of the period.
Joffrey Lupul’s shot in front of Erik Ersberg appeared to bounce of the goalie’s shoulder, hit the post and skid out toward Carter. Two defenseman and Lupul were in the crease, and Carter found a puck-sized hole between the four of them. With the power-play goal, he snapped a tie with New Jersey’s Zach Parise for second place in the NHL goal race—eight behind Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
Carter ended a season-worst five-game goal drought when he scored a night earlier at Washington.
The goal held up for the Flyers, who beat their former coach, Terry Murray. Murray led the Flyers to the 1997 Stanley Cup finals, and spent the past four seasons with them as an assistant coach.
Ersberg hasn’t won for the Kings since Dec. 13 against Minnesota.
“We had our looks, we had our opportunities but Marty was really good here,” Murray said. “It was a demanding game, and I was proud of our guys because we’re such a young team. We have to find a way.”
The Flyers played without defenseman Kimmo Timonen (flu). … Former Flyers goalie and team Hall of Famer Ron Hextall received a huge ovation from the crowd in the third period. He is the Kings’ assistant GM. … Flyers C Danny Briere (groin) hopes to return from a 35-game absence against Montreal on Friday night. “I wouldn’t say anything for sure, but we’re hopeful. We’ll see,” Stevens said.