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Sports

Flyers even series 1-1

| Tuesday, May 11, 2004

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Flyers had all the right answers in a game they felt they had to win.

John LeClair scored to end his puzzling playoff drought and goalie Robert Esche outplayed Nikolai Khabibulin Monday night in the Flyers' 6-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning to even the Eastern Conference finals at one game apiece.

Mark Recchi, Sami Kapanen and Vladimir Malakhov also scored to build a 4-0 lead, drive Khabibulin from the game and ensure Philadelphia would stop Tampa Bay's eight-game winning streak in the playoffs.

The Flyers also halted an eight-game slide against the Lightning that included four losses during the regular season and a 3-1 setback in Game 1 on Saturday.

Game 3 of the best-of-seven matchup is Thursday night in Philadelphia, where the Flyers are 6-0 in the postseason.

Esche, helped by the Flyers' ability to clog the middle of the ice and limit scoring opportunities for Tampa Bay's potent offense, stopped 29 shots to improve to 9-4 in the playoffs.

Ruslan Fedotenko scored midway through the third period with Tampa Bay down 6-0. NHL scoring champion Martin St. Louis added a power-play goal with 2:42 to go.

Even though the Flyers weren't facing elimination, they considered last night a must-win situation -- in part because while they're unbeaten at home in the playoffs, this is the first series they began on the road.

The sense of urgency was evident from the start.

LeClair scored on the first shot of the game, picking up the puck after Marcus Ragnarsson kicked it along the boards and skating in to beat Khabibulin from the left circle for his first playoff goal in 16 games, dating to last season.

Recchi made it 2-0, redirecting Ragnarsson's shot on the power play past Khabibulin with 11:10 left in the opening period. Three minutes later, Kapanen's short-handed goal pushed the Lightning into a deeper hole.

Khabibulin began the night with a 1.00 goals-against average and four shutouts in the playoffs, one more than he had during the entire regular season. The Flyers scored on four of 12 shots against the Russian goaltender, who was replaced by John Grahame with 13:58 remaining in the second period.

Michal Handzus scored against the Tampa Bay backup late in the second and Mattias Timander added an unassisted goal less than four minutes into the third period.

The loss was Tampa Bay's first since Game 2 of its first-round series against the New York Islanders. The Flyers were confident they could even the series after dominating the first half of Game 1, when they outshot Tampa Bay, 20-17, but faltered because of defensive miscues and an inability score more than one goal against Khabibulin.

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