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Niittymaki gives slumping Flyers a boost in win over Thrashers

ATLANTA (AP) -- The slumping Philadelphia Flyers found out only
minutes before Saturday night's game against the Atlanta Thrashers
that star center Peter Forsberg would be held out because of a knee
injury.

That was not exactly the pregame pep talk Philadelphia coach Ken
Hitchcock planned.

Goalie Antero Niittymaki helped fill the leadership void, making
25 saves and helping turn back eight of nine Atlanta power-play
opportunities in the Flyers' 4-2 victory over the Thrashers.

"For any other team to lose their best player in pregame
warmup, that's emotionally draining and these guys really
responded," Hitchcock said.

Forsberg suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his
right knee in the third period of Friday night's game against Tampa
Bay. He expected to play Saturday night but suffered more
discomfort than expected in the pregame workout.

"We didn't have a morning skate so I wanted to go out in
pregame and test it out and see how it felt," Forsberg said.
"Unfortunately it just didn't feel good enough to play."

Hitchcock said Forsberg likely would return for Tuesday's home
game against New Jersey.

"The doctor here cleared him to play but it was a little sore,
so we did not take a risk," Hitchcock said. "We'll have our own
people look at him."

The Flyers, only 4-5-1 since the Olympic break, are fifth in the
Eastern Conference standings, and two points behind the New York
Rangers in the Atlantic Division.

Atlanta, a point behind eighth-place Montreal for the final
playoff spot in the conference, has fallen from the top of the
NHL's power-play rankings by scoring on only four of 37
opportunities with an advantage in its last six games.

The loss to the Flyers prevented the Thrashers from passing
Montreal, which lost to Pittsburgh 5-4 Saturday night.

"We came out flat and it cost us in the end," Thrashers center
Marc Savard said.

"We were not the best team," said Thrashers coach Bob Hartley.

"We missed some chances. There were some loose pucks around the
net. This was an important time and we just could not cash in."

Mike Knuble, Jeff Carter, R.J. Umberger and Nicholas Dimitrakos
scored for Philadelphia, and Bobby Holik and Marian Hossa countered
for Atlanta.

With the game tied 1-1 after one period, Niittymaki made two
strong saves in the opening minutes of the second period.

Niittymaki denied Atlanta's Brad Larsen in front of the net less
than 2 minutes into the period. About 3 minutes later, the goalie
made a glove save to stop Slava Kozlov on a breakaway.

"I guess the goalie is the best penalty killer," Niittymaki
said. "We're taking so many penalties here, we have to get
better."

The Flyers took a 3-1 lead in the second period. Thrashers
goalie Kari Lehtonen couldn't stop Carter's shot from deep in the
left circle less than 5 minutes into the second period. About 10
minutes later, Umberger scored on a rebound of Lehtonen's stop on
Knuble's shot for the 3-1 lead.

After Niittymaki helped kill three power-play opportunities for
the Thrashers, Hossa finally scored on Atlanta's fourth power play
of the period, cutting the lead to 3-2.

The Flyers pushed the lead to 4-2 less than 6 minutes into the
third period on a slap shot from the right circle by Dimitrakos.

Knuble's power-play goal gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead in the
opening period. Holik answered with a tip-in for the Thrashers.

Joni Pitkanen and Eric Desjardins each had two assists for the
Flyers.

Game notes
Atlanta C Serge Aubin needed help leaving the ice after
suffering a sprained right knee midway through the opening period.
He did not return. Hartley said Aubin was "doing much better"
after the game. ... Philadelphia RW Turner Stevenson (hip) returned
after missing four games. ... Atlanta F Scott Mellanby was held out
with flu-like symptoms.