After being outshot 25-6 in the first period, the Philadelphia Flyers (18-8-6) ironically led the Washington Capitals (20-11-3) 1-0 thanks to the outstanding goaltending of Antero Niittymaki.
When the clock struck zero after three periods, Niittymaki put aside 47 Washington shots as the Flyers pounded the Capitals 7-1 at the Wachovia Center Saturday afternoon.
Niittymaki made his third consecutive start in favor of Martin Biron, who has the flu-bug. Nittymaki is making a strong case for more playing time, giving his best performance of the season and arguably his career.
Much of the first stanza was in front of Niittymaki, who was the backbone of four Philadelphia penalty kills. With a little help from the posts and crossbar, Niittymaki received a standing-ovation from the sell-out crowd of 19,897 at the end of the period.
This was a re-match of last year’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series, which was won by the Flyers on an overtime game-winner by Joffery Lupul in Game Seven.
Lupul started the scoring in this game as well, just 4:29 into the contest. Lupul made a nice move around a defenseman and beat Caps starter Brent Johnson five-hole for a 1-0 lead.
The Flyers made it 2-0 midway through the second period courtesy of Jeff Carter’s 23rd tally of the season. Carter tied Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek for the league lead with his 24th goal just over a minute later, banking in on a shorthanded breakaway.
Scott Hartnell added his second hat trick of the season, with all three goals coming in the third period. The goals were Hartnell’s 11th, 12th and 13th tallies of the season. His hat trick goal came on a beautiful tic-tac-toe play from Lupul and Carter. Hartnell’s hat trick was overshadowed by the performance of Niittymaki.
Simon Gagne rounded out the scoring for Philadelphia with his 17th goal of the season coming on a two-man advantage mid-way through the third.
The third period was filled with fists. Capitals agitator Donald Brashear fought Riley Cote for a second time (they also went in the first period) and then five minutes later, Capitals forward Matt Bradley dropped the gloves with Philadelphia’s Josh Gratton. On the ensuing face-off, Brashear was ready to fight Flyers enforcer Arron Asham, but referee Dan Marouelli didn’t allow the fight to take place.
Flyers forward Jeff Carter was a career-high +5. Alexander Ovechkin’s regular season streak of at least one-point against the Flyers was snapped at 11. Antero Niittymaki’s 25 saves in the first-period was the most by a Flyers goaltender in a first-period at home. Hartnell’s hat-trick was his fourth of the 2008 calendar year. His other hat-tricks were on Jan. 10 against the Rangers, Jan. 19 against the Islanders and Dec. 11 against the Hurricanes. Capitals goaltender Brent Johnson was pulled after the second period and replaced by Jose Theodore. The Flyers extended their league leading shorthanded goal mark to 13. The Flyers are 9-0-2 in their last 11 home games.