Flyers Look Ready to Take on the East After Toppling Carolina
Thursday, March 13, 2003
By David W. Unkle
The Flyers have thirteen games left in the regular season in which to determine their final position in the Eastern Conference which could determine how long hockey is being played at Broad & Pattison.
The recent acquisitions of Dmitri Yushkevich and Claude Lapointe addressed some of the team’s need yet firepower was the key ingredient missing from the lineup.
Monday’s trade which brought Tony Amonte to the Flyers filled a major void for the Flyers. Amonte pulling on the Orange and White for the first time was the big story that everyone knew about.
But it was the bigger story that had the First Union Center buzzing before the game started.
That buzz was created by the return of John Le Clair. In the lineup after missing the last 47 games following surgery to repair a torn labrum, Le Clair received a standing ovation upon stepping on the ice for his first shift.
It was probably one of the most memorable moments I’ve had as a Flyer, said Le Clair.
But nothing would match the excitement that came in the second period.
It didn’t start out all roses for Le Clair as the Hurricanes scored on his first shift on the ice.
Carolina’s Jeff O’Neill scored the Hurricane’s first goal on a shot the seemed to fool Flyers goaltender Roman Cechmanek.
O’Neill skated the puck through the neutral zone, leaving a nice drop pass for Ron Francis just inside the blue line. Francis’ shot was deflected by Michal Handzus then hit the back skate of O’Neill, sending the puck through the pads of a stunned Cechmanek.
O’Neill almost made it 2-0 when he spun around Flyers defenseman Kim Johnsson and fired a point blank shot on Cechmanek.
The Flyers tied the game when Eric Desjardins scored on a delayed penalty on Carolina’s Sean Hill for tripping Sami Kapanen.
With the puck still in play and Cechmanek on the bench, Donald Brashear sent a shot on net from the top of the right circle. The puck appeared to hit Desjardins’ stick and Hill’s skate, deflecting the puck over the shoulder of Hurricanes’ goaltender Patrick DesRochers, moving in the opposite direction of the puck.
Then the real excitement began.
Few players get excited about scoring their twelfth goal of the season in mid-March as Le Clair did and the First Union Center fans followed suit.
The Flyers’ winger signaled his return with the pumped fist after his scoring his first goal since November 21, 2002.
I was just showing everyone I was okay, said Le Clair. I was excited to play and be able to contribute.
Le Clair schooled Carolina defenseman Bruno St. Jacques on the finer points of the NHL game. The blueliner, tagged for a spot on the Flyers this season after spending most of last year with the Phantoms, let Le Clair get the jump on him.
Taking the puck around the Hurricanes’ net, Le Clair coaxed DesRochers onto the ice, sliding the puck past the goalie’s outstretched arm for the 2-1 lead.
I chatted with him right before the game, said Flyers Captain Keith Primeau. (Le Clair) said he couldn’t remember the last time he was this nervous. He has worked very hard to get back and he looked great out there.
St. Jacques made amends later in the period on a one-timer past Cechmanek to knot the score at 2-2 with the teams playing four skater apiece.
He makes good reads and gets his shots off…this guy has a lot of poise for a young man, said Carolina Head Coach, Paul Maurice.
Still on the power play as the third period began, the Flyers regained the lead on Keith Primeau’s 17th goal of the season. Tony Amonte’s shot from the left circle rebounded directly out to Primeau who was allowed to virtually stay untouched in the slot by St. Jacques.
Primeau one-timed the puck past DesRoschers and the Flyers had their second goal of the night with the man advantage.
The two teams traded goals midway through the period with Tony Amonte scoring the eventual game-winner at 11:50.
Amonte, took the feed from Marty Murray and weaved through the slot before firing a wrist shot past DesRochers for the 4-2 lead.
I could barely sleep this afternoon or last night, said Amonte. Playing with JR (Jeremy Roenick) and Marty (Murray) helped as well. They are two great players who see the ice well.
With defenseman, Dmitri Yushkevich in the penalty box, the Hurricanes’ Radim Yrbata temporarily quieted the crowd with his 13th of the season, just 1:08 after Amonte’s score.
Yushkevich provided the insurance goal with under three minutes to play as the Flyers moved to within two points of the first-place New Jersey Devils.
This time of year, you have to pull together quickly, said Flyers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock. We have to find ways to do very difficult tasks and enjoy them.
Hitchcock went on to iterate that the Flyers would focus on gelling the team over the remaining three weeks of the season and let the other teams just play.
Our total focus is on us; we will spend very little time on the opposition.
Fans can visit the Flyers web site for schedule and ticket information at: www.philadelphiaflyers.com.
SCORE BY PERIOD:
SHOTS ON GOAL:
STARS OF THE GAME:
Photos by Pedro Cancel
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