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Flyers top Isles, gain on first-place Rangers

UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) -- With a win over one New York team, the
Philadelphia Flyers got some momentum heading into a key matchup
with another.

Robert Esche stopped 31 shots and four Philadelphia players
scored in the Flyers' 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on
Sunday.

Mike Knuble, R.J. Umberger, Jeff Carter and Sami Kapanen all
scored for the Flyers, who are now two points behind the
first-place New York Rangers in the Atlantic Division with eight
regular-season games left for both teams.

The Flyers take on the Rangers on Tuesday night at Madison
Square Garden.

"We've played pretty well against them this year," Esche said.
"At this time of the year, every game can go one way or the
other."

Shawn Bates had the only goal for the Islanders, who have lost
four straight and three in a row at home. New York goalie Rick
DiPietro stopped 18 shots.

Knuble gave the Flyers the lead for good less than five minutes
into the game when he backhanded in a rebound of Mike Rathje's
shot. It was Knuble's career-high 31st goal of the season, besting
the 30 he had in 2002-2003. His 60 points are also a career high,
passing the 59 he had in the same season.

"I'm thrilled," Knuble said. "The stuff I've achieved since
my 30th birthday saved my career. I'm really proud at 33 that I've
been able to do my best. Ever since playing with some of the guys I
played with in Boston, it's helped me confidence-wise to feel I can
still contribute. It's a great feeling."

Umberger made a beautiful play for an unassisted goal at 9:40.
He stripped defenseman Denis Grebeshkov of the puck at the Flyers'
blue line, sidestepped defenseman John Erskine and beat DiPietro
with a backhander over his glove.

Carter scored from the top of the right circle with a wrist shot
over DiPietro's glove with 14.5 seconds left in the period, giving
the Flyers had a commanding 3-0 lead.

The Islanders had chances in the first period, but an apparent
goal by Robert Nilsson was disallowed 90 seconds in because the
replay proved inconclusive as to whether Esche's glove was over the
goal line when he grabbed Nilsson's backhander. Then Radek Martinek
hit the crossbar with a shot midway through the period. Trent
Hunter had a shot hit the crossbar and drop on the line, but not
over, at 15:11.

"I think I got the first one before it crossed the line,"
Esche said. "The other one, it hit the crossbar and I fell over
it. It was lucky, I guess."

The Islanders finally scored 76 seconds into the final period on
a two-man power play. Bates one-timed a rebound past Esche from the
left post. The goal was only the fourth on the power play for New
York in their last 60 chances.

Kapanen scored a short-handed, empty-net goal with two minutes
left to close the scoring.

As for the Islanders, forward Mike York said the team is playing
for pride, even if the playoffs are out of reach.

"We want to win, whether it's checkers or hockey," York said.

Game notes
New York has not scored an even-strength goal in the last
265 minutes, 37 seconds of play. Alexei Yashin scored the last one
on March 25 with 5:37 left in the second period of a game against
Atlanta. The Islanders have only managed three power-play goals
since then. ... The Islanders practiced on Saturday without one key
element: pucks. The punishment skate was due to their poor
performance in a 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh on Friday night. ... New
York forward Jason Blake missed Sunday's game with a groin injury.
Also out with a groin problem was Flyers center Petr Nedved, who
was injured during Saturday's 4-1 home loss to New Jersey.