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Philly finally finds way past Khabibulin

5/12/2004

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The Philadelphia Flyers broke through the
"Bulin Wall" and charged back into the Eastern Conference finals.

Proving Nikolai Khabibulin just seems impenetrable, the Flyers
scored three times in the first 12 minutes and went on to rout the
Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2 Monday night to even the best-of-seven
series at one win apiece.

"It's a step in the right direction," Philadelphia coach Ken
Hitchcock said. "They're such a good team that you have to
maintain a really high level. If you do that, you have a chance to
beat them."

John LeClair scored to end his puzzling playoff drought and
goalie Robert Esche outplayed Khabibulin in a game Philadelphia
felt it had to win.

Mark Recchi, Sami Kapanen and Vladimir Malakhov also scored to
build a 4-0 lead, drive Khabibulin from the game and ensure the
Flyers would stop Tampa Bay's eight-game winning streak in the
playoffs.

"It was pretty ugly," Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle said.
"We can throw that tape away because we don't want to see that one
again."

The Flyers also halted an eight-game slide against the Lightning
that included four losses during the regular season and a 3-1
setback in Game 1 Saturday.

Game 3 is Thursday night in Philadelphia, where the Flyers are
6-0 in the postseason.

"We now have a chance to control our destiny," Hitchcock said.
"If we can win our home games, we've got a chance."

Esche, helped by the Flyers' ability to clog the middle of the
ice and limit scoring opportunities for Tampa Bay's potent offense,
stopped 29 shots to improve to 9-4 in the playoffs.

Ruslan Fedotenko scored midway through the third period with
Tampa Bay down 6-0. NHL scoring champion Martin St. Louis added a
power-play goal with 2:42 to go.

"We won eight in a row and tonight we lost," St. Louis said.
"It's a series now, and it's 1-1. We're not beat-up mentally. ...
It's just one game."

Even though the Flyers weren't facing elimination, they
considered Monday night a must-win situation -- in part because
while they're unbeaten at home in the playoffs, this is the first
series in which they don't have home-ice advantage.

The sense of urgency was evident from the start.

LeClair scored on the first shot of the game, picking up the
puck after Marcus Ragnarsson kicked it along the boards and skating
in to beat Khabibulin from the left circle for his first playoff
goal in 16 games, dating to last season.

"I should have stopped that shot," Khabibulin said. "I've got
to play better next time."

Recchi made it 2-0, redirecting Ragnarsson's shot on the power
play past Khabibulin with 11:10 left in the opening period. Three
minutes later, Kapanen's short-handed goal pushed the Lightning
into a deeper hole.

Khabibulin began the night with a 1.00 goals-against average and
four shutouts in the playoffs, one more than he had during the
entire regular season. The Flyers scored on four of 12 shots
against the Russian goaltender, who was replaced by John Grahame
with 13:58 remaining in the second period.

"Habby's not going to stop them all," Boyle said. "We got
stunned early, and we never recuperated."

Michal Handzus scored against the Tampa Bay backup late in the
second, and Mattias Timander added an unassisted goal less than four
minutes into the third period.

The loss was Tampa Bay's first since Game 2 of its first-round
series against the New York Islanders. The Flyers were confident
they could even the series after dominating the first half of Game
1, when they outshot Tampa Bay 20-17 but faltered because of
defensive miscues and an inability to score more than one goal against
Khabibulin.

Game notes
Ragnarsson had three assists. ... Malakhov's goal, which
ended Khabibulin's night, was his first in the playoffs since May
6, 2000, against Toronto, a span of 26 games. ... Philadelphia was
0-for-18 on power-play opportunities before Recchi's goal. ... The
Flyers have outscored opponents 16-3 in the first period during the
playoffs. The second period has been Tampa Bay's strongest, with
the Lightning holding a 14-4 edge even after giving up two Monday night.
... New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner purchased 350
tickets for military personnel stationed at nearby MacDill Air
Force Base, as well as some of the families of service men and
women fighting the war in Iraq.