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Philly takes seven-point division lead

3/9/2004

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The Philadelphia Flyers beat the New Jersey Devils at their own game to take firm control in the Atlantic Division with less than a month to go in the regular season.

John LeClair had a goal and two assists and the Flyers bottled
up the Devils in center ice for two periods in a 3-1 win Tuesday.

"I think we are proving to ourselves how good of a hockey team
we have when we stay with the program and believe in it," Flyers
coach Ken Hitchcock said. "There are a lot of guys that are
believing in what we are trying to do here. Good things are
happening because of it."

The Flyers' second straight win over New Jersey gave them a
seven-point lead in the division with 11 games to go. The Devils
have played two fewer games.

"Our goal was to win our division," said Mark Recchi, who
added a goal and an assist. "We've got 11 to go. We've got an
opportunity, if we have a big week, to succeed. We're still looking
at the big picture, at what we have to do and what we have to get
better at."

The Flyers will get a chance to open up a bigger lead when they
face the Devils in Philadelphia on Saturday.

Devils coach Pat Burns said the loss put a serious dent in New
Jersey's chances to win the division.

"We're not throwing in the towel, but if you win tonight, it's
a different situation," Burns said.

LeClair set up goals by Recchi and Kim Johnsson in a 2:28 span
bridging the first and second periods. The left wing, who did not
have a point in four games against New Jersey this season, iced the
contest with an empty-net tally with 12.9 seconds to go as the
Flyers snapped a five-game winless (0-3-1-1) streak on the road.

Robert Esche made 20 saves for the Flyers, who got a big night
from the LeClair-Michal Handzus-Recchi line, which was a combined
plus nine for the night. Handzus had two assists.

"We got the lead, and we really kept them to the outside. When
they had opportunities, Esche was good for us," Recchi said.

Turner Stevenson scored for the Devils, who were limited to 10
shots in the first two periods.

Esche was good when needed. He stopped Scott Gomez in close
twice and linemate Patrik Elias once in the first two periods.

After Stevenson scored with 13:55 to go, Esche made three good
stops, the last two on Elias with just under two minutes to go.

Down 2-0, the Devils got back in the game less than a minute
after Martin Brodeur stopped LeClair at point-blank range.

Gomez started the Devils' scoring play with a pass from behind
the net to Scott Niedermayer about 40 feet right in front of Esche.
The defenseman passed the puck to Stevenson in the right circle, and
his shot got by a Flyers defenseman and Esche.

Recchi got the Flyers on the board with 1:17 left in the first
period on somewhat of a lucky goal. LeClair's pass to Handzus on a
three-on-two rush hit off the Flyers' center. The loose puck went
to Recchi who squeezed a shot through Brodeur for his team-high
26th goal.

Johnsson got his fourth goal in four games at 1:11 of the second
period, putting in the rebound of a shot by LeClair.

Game notes
Devils D Brian Rafalski did not play in the final two periods after aggravating a bruise behind the back of his right knee. ... Vladimir Malakhov, acquired Monday from the Rangers, was in the Flyers' lineup, paired with Danny Markov. ... The Flyers are now 30-0-2-1 when leading after two periods. ... Devils F Brian Gionta missed his second straight game after being hit in face with a puck against Tampa Bay. ... Flyers C Keith Primeau experienced post-concussion problems Tuesday afternoon and missed his 13th straight game. ... Devils president Lou Lamoriello remains hopeful D Scott Stevens (post-concussion syndrome) will return this season.