Kraynak passes Phantom track coaching baton to Jay Carlin

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With Antero Niittymaki on the shelf with ongoing hip problems, Esche made his second consecutive brilliant start and guided the Flyers to their second straight win, 5-2 against the Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center, a building where the Flyers improved to 4-1-2 in their last seven contests.

By ANTHONY J. SANFILIPPO

RALEIGH, N.C. - With the calendar flipping forward to 2007, Flyers goalie Robert Esche is flipping it back to 2004.

With Antero Niittymaki on the shelf with ongoing hip problems, Esche made his second consecutive brilliant start and guided the Flyers to their second straight win, 5-2 against the Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center, a building where the Flyers improved to 4-1-2 in their last seven contests.

Esche made 40 saves, many of them that can be considered dynamic, as the Flyers and 'Canes played perhaps the most exciting game of the Flyers season.

The game had everything from great goaltending, to dazzling offensive chances, to great hits, to two reviewed goals.

But most importantly, playing the way they did, the Flyers are finding out that competing for an entire game will result in victories more often than not.

They won back-to-back games for only the third time all season, and for the first time since November 24-25.

Peter Forsberg again paced the offense, assisting on three goals for the second straight game, but Esche was again the star.

Especially in the second period, when the Flyers were outshot 18-3 and out-chanced 11-2.

Sure, that's when the Hurricanes scored their first goal - a power play tally by Ray Whitney after a lazy blunder by Alexei Zhitnik allowed for Carolina to have a 2-on-1 down low - but were it not for Esche, Carolina could have scored several times in the period at put the Flyers away.

Instead, Zhitnik atoned for his earlier error with a goal in the final seconds of the period, giving the Flyers the lead heading into the final frame.

But Esche, looking a lot like the goalie who reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004, stopped a lot of golden chances by Carolina, including a lunging glove save on Scott Walker early in the period, and a diving armpit stop on Eric Belanger later in the period.

The Flyers also killed off four of the five penalties they took in the period and six of seven overall.

Esche later carried his heroics into the third period.

After a fortunate goal by Ryan Potulny when the puck took a weird bounce off the boards, catching Carolina goalie Cam Ward out of position, and a beautiful breakaway goal by the suddenly resurgent Kyle Calder, Carolina ramped up a comeback effort.

Whitney scored to narrow the score to 4-2, but Esche thwarted his chance at a hat trick when he stopped an initial shot by Whitney from in close with his shoulder, and than did a spin-o-rama to cover up the loose puck in the crease before any Hurricanes players could poke it in.

The first period was fast-paced with a lot of energy both ways, and Mike Knuble had a goal disallowed when video replay judges said he knocked a puck in with a high stick.

But, 16 seconds later, the judges were at work again, and this time confirmed a goal by Simon Gagne that went in and out of the net so quickly, that no one saw it.

The Flyers (10-24-4), were fortunate Zhitnik's goal wasn't disallowed because Forsberg interfered with Ward during the shot, but there was no call by either official.

Calder's goal was a thing of beauty. Jeff Carter intercepted a drop pass by Rod Brind'Amour and sprung Calder on a breakaway.

Calder jammed on the breaks right in front of Ward, forcing the goalie to slide to his right, and then Calder easily lifted a shot past the fooled goalie to make it 4-1.

It was Calder's third goal in four games and fourth in the last eight after going the first 30 games of the season without a tally.

Knuble added an empty-netter on a power play in the final minute of play to put the game out of reach. It was the 150th goal of his career.

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