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Sunday, May 16, 2004
Updated: May 17, 8:02 PM ET
Scorer has turned into a leader

Associated Press

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Keith Primeau used to be a top scorer. He's become an even better leader.

Primeau's outstanding performance in the playoffs has the Philadelphia Flyers halfway to the Stanley Cup finals. But the Tampa Bay Lightning are standing in the way, holding home-ice advantage.

With the Eastern Conference finals tied at two games apiece, both teams took off Sunday, choosing to rest as the series shifts to Tampa for Game 5 Tuesday night.

Primeau and the rest of the Flyers regained momentum with a 3-2 victory Saturday that left the Lightning wondering how they can stop Philadelphia's captain.

"He has had a very good series," Lightning coach John Tortorella said of Primeau in a conference call. "We have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Our mind-set is we have to worry about our hockey club. Do we have to make small adjustments? Sure, but our main focus is on our team."

Primeau scored one short-handed goal and set up another score Saturday, giving him seven goals and four assists in 15 playoff games. He's been a dominant force on defense, setting the tone for the Flyers with his physical play.

It's been quite a turnaround for a player who hadn't lived up to his potential since coming to Philadelphia in January 2000. Once considered an offensive threat, Primeau hasn't reached 20 goals in his last three seasons after scoring a career-high 34 in 2000-01.

Instead, Primeau has become one of the NHL's best two-way forwards and team leaders. Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock compared Primeau's leadership skills to those of Steve Yzerman, Derian Hatcher, Mark Messier and Mike Modano.

After the Flyers lost two straight to Toronto to even their second-round series at two games each, Primeau challenged his teammates in a meeting before Game 5, then scored three goals to lead Philadelphia to a 7-2 victory.

"He has been a force throughout the postseason and there have been a couple games where he has taken it to the next level," teammate Sami Kapanen said. "I can't say enough about him."

Primeau fell out of favor with the tough Flyers fans after he helped get coach Bill Barber -- a Hall of Fame player for Philadelphia in the 1970s -- fired in 2002. But he has regained their hearts with his tenacious, gritty play.

"You find out with the Flyer fans that if you play with a lot of courage and you play hard, they forgive a lot of things about people," Hitchcock said. "Keith knew that, and he went out and did it."

The Lightning not only have to find a way to contain Primeau, but they have to avoid breakdowns like the one late in the first period of Game 4 when the Flyers scored two goals in less than 1 minutes.

"We have to stay composed for 20 minutes and we didn't," Lightning defenseman Darryl Sydor said.

Tampa Bay had seven power plays, scoring on two of them. But the Lightning also allowed Primeau's short-handed goal. Hitchcock wants his team to be more disciplined to avoid so many penalties.

"When you're playing a team like Tampa, any time you can keep those guys playing five-on-five hockey, that gives you a fighting chance," Hitchcock said.

The Flyers got good news when they learned forward Jeremy Roenick and defenseman Joni Pitkanen are expected to play in Game 5. Both left Saturday's game with "upper-body" injuries. If Pitkanen doesn't play, Dennis Seidenberg of the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms will take his place.