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04-10-2004, 11:10 AM
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GDT: Devils @ Flyers Game 2 7:30

PHI leads 1-0
Game 2: Sat., 7:30 p.m. ET

Simon Gagne is getting hot at just the right time for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Often lost among the Flyers' galaxy of stars -- players like Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte and emerging fan favorite, Michal Handzus -- Gagne is often an afterthought.

That was not the case Thursday night. In an all-important Game 1 showdown vs. the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Gagne set the tone for the Flyers with the game-opening goal midway through the first period.

Linemate Keith Primeau started the scoring play with a harmless dump-in into the left corner of the Devils' zone. Gagne made the play dangerous, however, by racing rookie defenseman Paul Martin to the loose puck, negating a possible icing. To compound matters for the Devils, Gagne then out-muscled Martin to win the 50-50 puck, fishing it out of a maze of skates and sticks. Continuing the momentum, Gagne made a sweet pass to Sami Kapanen at the top of the circle, resulting in a testing shot on the goalie.

New Jersey's Martin Brodeur handled the initial foray but left a big rebound, a mistake that Gagne -- rushing to the slot after disentangling himself from Martin -- was able to shovel past a scrambling Brodeur.

"I had no idea it was icing," admitted Gagne, who was flying around the ice all night. "I was talking on the bench after the goal and that's when they said it was going to be an icing. I just went there and put a body between me and I think it was Martin. Then, we won the battle and I had taken the body early against him, so I was free to go to the front of the net."

Just like that, it was 1-0 Philadelphia. And, just as quickly, the sold-out Wachovia Center crowd was in a towel-waving frenzy that carried throughout the contest, eventually won by the home team, 3-2, in nail-biting fashion.

"The first goals are going to be very important in this series, we know that," said Gagne. "Both teams can play well and dictate the game when playing from the lead. So, to get that first goal was a plus for us. We were able to play our game after that."

Making Gagne's play even sweeter was the fact that it was scored in the exact manner the team stressed before taking the ice against the defending champs.

"We just wanted to work the puck low whenever we could," said Primeau, the team's captain. "You don't get many opportunities against that team over there, so we wanted to work low, get some traffic in front and make the most out of our chances against them. That's what Simon did on his goal and it was big for us."

The Flyers have come to expect such heroics from their young prodigy. Despite playing on a checking unit with Primeau and the speedy Kapanen, Gagne did score 24 goals this season -- the second-highest total on the team behind Mark Recchi's 26. That's the fourth time in five seasons that Gagne, just 24, has reached the 20-goal plateau in his still-developing career.

"I'm just trying to work hard and go at the net, and when I have a chance to shoot the rebound, I just try to put the puck in." - Simon Gagne
More importantly, Gagne has already emerged as one of those special players that can be counted upon to score the big goals. Down the stretch of the regular season, the Flyers needed every goal they could muster to hold of the hard-charging Devils and hang onto the Atlantic Division title.

All Gagne did in that pressure-packed scenario is score half of his total goals in his final 24 outings. He was even better in the last month, scoring five goals in the last ten games, including two of his team-leading six game-winners. He was also a plus-6 during that closing kick.

The result of those heroics was that the Flyers did, indeed, hold off the Devils, winning the division by one point and earning the third seed. For that reason, this very even series opened in Philadelphia on Thursday and, if it goes the distance, will close here 11 days from now.

Then, he trumped that with a huge, confidence-giving goal against the Flyers' personal demon, Brodeur.

Yet, through it all, Gagne remains modest, almost painfully so, as his personal star continues to rise.

"Goals are starting to go in," he said after Thursday's first period. "I'm just trying to work hard and go at the net, and when I have a chance to shoot the rebound, I just try to put the puck in. Right now, it's starting to go in. Hopefully, it can keep going on like this."

In the process, though, he'll leave the sound bites and flourishes before the cameras to his more high-profile teammates.
This should be a hard-fought battle as always and it could turn on one big play or one big hit. I would expect another good performance out of Esche who is always very calm and he will be ready for this game. The Flyers will be going into the game without 4th line center Claude Lapointe who won't return for the rest of the playoffs according to Panaccio.

Don't call me superstitious, but I'm going to predict the same result as last time because the Flyers won that time.

Devils 3
Flyers 1

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