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Rookie Niittymaki wins again

2/11/2004

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Antero Niittymaki has made a strong case for
more playing time.

The rookie goaltender stopped 35 shots for his third win in as many starts, leading the Philadelphia Flyers over the New Jersey Devils 4-1 Tuesday night.

But Niittymaki's playing time will decrease because Philadelphia
acquired veteran goalie Sean Burke from Phoenix on Monday to step in until Robert Esche returns from a knee injury.

"I don't know what's going to happen," Niittymaki said. "It's
been fun."

Simon Gagne and Danny Markov scored power-play goals and Michal Handzus and Mark Recchi also scored for Philadelphia, which extended its lead to seven points over New Jersey in the Atlantic Division. The Stanley Cup champion Devils, though, have played three fewer games than the Flyers, who also lead the Eastern Conference.

Scott Niedermayer scored for New Jersey, which has lost two
straight.

The Flyers have won three in a row and seven of nine.

"We played out of our system. We tried to do things that aren't
us," Devils coach Pat Burns said. "Niittymaki was good early. He
made some big saves."

Niittymaki, 23, has allowed just three goals since taking over
as the starter after Esche went down with a strained knee last
week. The Flyers already were without Jeff Hackett (vertigo) when
Esche went down. Hackett retired Monday.

If this was Niittymaki's final start for a while, he certainly
left an impression, outplaying eight-time All-Star Martin Brodeur.

"It's always fun to play against great players, but I tried to
focus on my own game," Niittymaki said.

Niittymaki's best save came midway through the second period
when he stoned Jamie Langenbrunner on a breakaway, earning a long
standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 19,714 at the Wachovia
Center.

"What this is telling us and the world is that the future of
goaltending is very good in Philadelphia," Flyers coach Ken
Hitchcock said.

Gagne gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead on his 13th goal. Joni Pitkanen's shot from the side of the net was stopped, but Jeremy Roenick trickled the rebound to Gagne, who stuffed it into an open net.

Markov made it 2-0 early in the second period when he one-timed
a pass from Marcus Ragnarsson past Brodeur's glove.

Handzus scored his 14th goal 14 seconds into the third. His
rising shot hit Devils center Scott Gomez and went between
Brodeur's legs.

Niedermayer scored a power-play goal less than three minutes
later. Recchi's 21st goal midway through the third period capped
the scoring.

"We've got to get ourselves straight," Langenbrunner said.
"We're not playing very well lately. We've been getting beat
pretty bad. We're a team that usually gives itself a chance to win
every night, but we're not doing that right now.

Game notes
Roenick left the game with a left hamstring strain. He's day
to day. ... The victory was Philadelphia's first against the Devils
in four games this season and second in the last nine meetings
(2-5-2). ... Brodeur has allowed eight goals in his last two games.
... The Flyers' two power-play goals were their first against New
Jersey since the 2001-02 season, going 0-for-27 in that span. ...
New Jersey had allowed just 11 power-play goals in 85 chances, the
best road percentage in the NHL, before the Flyers scored two in
six opportunities. ... Roenick's assist on Gagne's goal was his
642nd, moving him past Gary Suter for fourth place among
American-born players. ... Flyers C Claude Lapointe returned for
the first time since entering a voluntary substance abuse program
for treatment of depression in December.