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Monday, May 10, 2004
Veteran's goal buoys Flyers' confidence

Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- John LeClair took a pass, skated down the left side and wristed a shot that appeared harmless.

John LeClair
LeClair

Somehow, the puck slipped between Nikolai Khabibulin's legs, ending LeClair's scoring drought and sparking the Philadelphia Flyers to a 6-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Monday night.

The series, tied at 1, shifts to Philadelphia for Game 3 Thursday night.

LeClair's goal was his first of the playoffs. Even more, it proved Khabibulin isn't impenetrable and gave the Flyers confidence.

"It felt good. They haven't been dropping in for me. Hopefully it'll continue," LeClair said.

Mark Recchi and Sami Kapanen also scored in the first period, and Vladimir Malakhov sent Khabibulin to the bench with a goal 6:02 into the second period.

A three-time 50-goal scorer and five-time All-Star, LeClair has been criticized heavily for his inability to produce in the postseason. He had just one assist in Philadelphia's first 12 playoff games this season, and came in with just three goals in his last 36 playoff games.

"You take the good with the bad," LeClair said. "When things aren't going in, you try to do other things to help."

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay, LeClair whiffed on opportunities to score during a pair of two-on-one breaks. Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock praised the big forward for playing physical hockey, but LeClair, who earns $9 million per season, is paid to score goals. He isn't the team's highest-paid player for his checking skills.

LeClair played a role in Philadelphia's second goal Monday night, as well. He positioned himself in front of the net, blocking Khabibulin's view as Recchi deflected Marcus Ragnarsson's slap shot into the net.

"It's about winning," LeClair said. "The team has been successful, so it makes it easier to be happy when you win."

LeClair's production has slipped in recent years as he has battled back and shoulder injuries. He scored 23 goals in 75 games this season after getting 18 in just 35 games the previous year.

LeClair reached the 50-goal mark three consecutive seasons while playing with Eric Lindros from 1995 to 1997, and he scored more than 40 the next two seasons. He had back surgery in 2000-01 and missed 66 games. He missed 47 games last season after having shoulder surgery.

"We were probably happier for him than anybody," Recchi said of the team's reaction to LeClair's goal. "He was pressing, but he never shows it. He's the perfect team guy. He plays hard for us every night. It's nice to see him get a reward."