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Unheralded Esche again outduels Brodeur

4/12/2004

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Forget a repeat. The New Jersey Devils might
not get past the first round.

Alexei Zhamnov scored the go-ahead goal in the second period as the Philadelphia Flyers beat the defending Stanley Cup
champions 3-2 Saturday night to take a 2-0 series lead.

Game 3 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference matchup is Monday
night in New Jersey.

"They kept the home ice. Now, we've got to go back and keep
ours," Devils center Scott Gomez said. "Our confidence is still
pretty high right now."

Jan Hrdina and Brian Gionta scored for the Devils, who didn't
lead in either game in Philadelphia. Mark Recchi and Mattias Timander had the Flyers' other goals.

New Jersey hasn't come back from a 2-0 series deficit since
winning four straight against Boston in the 1994 conference
semifinals after losing the first two at home. The Devils rallied
from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Flyers in the 2000 conference
finals.

"We realize we're going against the Stanley Cup champions, a
tremendous team," Flyers forward Jeremy Roenick said. "If we're
not poised and composed, they'd walk all over us."

Robert Esche, making just his second playoff start, again
outplayed Martin Brodeur, stopping 24 shots. He had 37 saves in
Thursday night's 3-2 victory.

Brodeur, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner who has led New
Jersey to three championships in the past nine years, again was
ordinary. He allowed three goals on 18 shots.

"They're making good dumps, and I can't play the puck at all,"
Brodeur said. "I felt good. I didn't get beaten on any clean
shots. When you lose by one goal, you always hopefully made the big
save, but that didn't happen the first two games, so hopefully I've
got to be better the rest of the series if we're going to go
anywhere."

Less than three minutes after Hrdina scored the tying goal,
Zhamnov stuffed a shot past Brodeur to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead.
Tony Amonte set up the goal with a shot from outside the right
circle that went around the net to Roenick, who took a shot that
was stopped by Brodeur. But Zhamnov took a whack at the puck,
slipping it through before Brodeur could control it.

"It was a cookie goal," Zhamnov said. "I think Brodeur lost
the puck."

Timander made it 3-1 midway through the third period with a hard
slap shot that sailed past Brodeur. Gionta cut it to 3-2 with 5:25
left, but the Flyers controlled play in the final minutes.

Still playing without All-Star defenseman Scott Stevens, who is
battling post-concussion syndrome, New Jersey's defense had trouble
against Philadelphia's big forwards. John LeClair hit the side of
the net on a shot that beat Brodeur in the first, and Sami Kapanen
later missed the net on a point-blank shot.

Hrdina tied it at 1-all with his second goal in two games early in the second period. Hrdina took a crisp pass from Jamie Langenbrunner, skated in alone and flipped it past Esche.

Recchi gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal in the first period. Recchi completed a tic-tac-toe passing play with Joni Pitkanen and Kim Johnsson by one-timing a shot over Brodeur's glove.

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock preached discipline to his team after
New Jersey had four power plays to Philadelphia's one in the series
opener. But the Flyers took two penalties in the first 10 minutes.

First, Keith Primeau was called for interference, even though it
appeared Brodeur tripped him. Then Timander had a hooking penalty.
The Flyers killed both penalties, and another one in the second
period. During the Devils' last power play, Roenick was pulled down
by Scott Niedermayer when he came in on a short-handed breakaway,
but no penalty was called.

"We knew if we're going to have a chance, no matter what we did
on the power play, we'd have to do a good job killing penalties,"
Hitchcock said. "If we didn't do that, we'd be on edge in other
parts of our game."

The game ended with a scrum in front and behind the Flyers net,
and Esche squared off with New Jersey forward Patrik Elias. The two
exchanged shoves, but they were kept apart as Esche struggled to
get his hands free of his glove and blocker.

"It was a lot more physical than Game 1," Primeau said. "They
tried to goad us into penalties, but we maintained our
composure."

Game notes
The Devils were 0-for-3 on the power play and are 0-for-7 in the series. ... Recchi got into a heated exchange with referee Mick McGeough in the first period after McGeough argued with Esche over a non-call. ... Flyers D Eric Desjardins, out for the playoffs, will have surgery Monday on the right forearm he re-broke earlier in the week. ... The teams have met twice in the playoffs, with New Jersey winning both times in the conference finals (1995, 2000) and going on to win the Cup. ... After closing the season 1-for-37 on the power play, the Flyers scored on their first two opportunities with the man advantage.