NEW YORK - Team depth to the Flyers means having younger players in reserve who can be called up to fill holes, then return to the minor league system and continue to develop.

But more importantly, it means having any number of players on the bench who can, at any moment during the season, start contributing in a big way.

During their six-game road trip that ended in Madison Square Garden last night with a 6-2 victory over the Rangers, two of those players were Antero Niittymaki and Scott Hartnell.

Hartnell, who suffered through a slow start early in the season, scored three times in a row, a natural hat trick, and helped Niittymaki and the Flyers back from a 2-0 deficit in the first period.

It was the Flyers' third victory in a row as they concluded the trip 5-1.

Hartnell, obtained along with defenseman Kimmo Timonen from Nashville in an offseason trade, didn't score his first goal of the season until Nov. 10, in the Flyers' 16th game. He now has 10 and has scored six points in the last two games.

Simon Gagne scored a goal in his first game back after missing 26 with a concussion. Mike Knuble and Stefan Ruzicka also scored and Steve Downie had key assists on two of Hartnell's goals.

"Hockey is a weird thing," Hartnell said. "Confidence is a weird thing, too. When you get a point, you get a goal, they seem to come in bunches and I was just around the net banging pucks.

"That first one was a lucky one, you'll take those any day of the week. And the third one, I made a nice move and put it in. The most important thing was a big two points for us."

Gagne, who played 17 minutes and 17 seconds, was tentative around the action and just missed getting nailed by Ryan Hollweg. Gagne started on the first line with Daniel Briere and R.J. Umberger, but after the Hollweg near-miss came back out on a different line.

Gagne got better as the game progressed, went back to the top line and scored on the power play with 5 minutes remaining.

"The first shift I felt tired right away and I had a hard time to find my legs," he said. "On their first goal I looked pretty slow and then I recovered pretty quick and I started to feel better in the second and third, and I was pretty happy the way I felt at the end.

"It felt very good, especially when you win here in New York. It makes it easier a little bit when you come back and get that first goal in the first game. It helps mentally and physically. When you look to get that first one and it takes time, your legs are getting heavier and your stick is getting heavier and it's tough."

The win was the Flyers' sixth in seven games and brought them to the midway point of the season, 41 games, with 48 points, 22 more than at this point last season.

"I love the fact that we're getting contributions from different areas all the time," coach John Stevens said. "[Hartnell] has been terrific. Guys go down and we've asked a lot more of him. He's starting to kill penalties.

"We're on the road here and we needed a big performance from him . . . I thought that whole line [also Downie and Mike Richards] was terrific. And [Niittymaki], I think he's as sharp as he's ever been in the net."

Niittymaki's third start in a row was a tad rocky in the first period. Hollweg, who had not scored all season, put the Rangers up 2-0 with a pair of goals in the first 7:42.

On the first, Blair Betts shot the puck through Niittymaki's feet, but it hit the post and spun off to the side of the net. Hollweg was there to grab it and stuff it into the open corner.

On the second, Hollweg won a forecheck off Jason Smith and dished out to Dan Girardi, who took a quick shot. Hollweg got his stick on the shot and deflected it off the crossbar; the puck bounced out but hit Smith's helmet and bounced in off Niittymaki's facemask.

"It went off of [Smith's] nose and my head," Niittymaki said. "Strange bounce. It happens."

The Flyers ended the period with an extended five-on-three that carried into the first 2 minutes of the second. The Flyers converted on the advantage and cut the lead by one 40 seconds into the period. Richards shot from in front and looked like he got all net, but when the goal was announced it was awarded to Knuble, who got a piece of his stick on it as it went by. It was one of the Flyers' three power-play goals.

"That was a big turning point, and to get two huge goals from a line that typically does not score a lot, well, that's a good way to win games," Knuble said. "We were able to regroup and the power play helped a lot.''

Then it became a game of small battles won.

Jim Dowd beat an icing the length of the rink and got the puck out front to Ruzicka, who waited, shot and beat Henrik Lundqvist, tying the game at 8:45.

Downie provided the next hustle play, forechecking the puck into the corner to Hartnell. The winger took an impossible angle shot that struck Lundqvist on the inside of the left skate and went in, giving the Flyers a 3-2 lead 10:42 into the second.

The Flyers started the third period on the power play and again took advantage, Hartnell scoring his second of the night when he chipped in a puck that dropped to the ice at the side of the net at 1:54.

After a broken play in the Flyers' defensive zone, Downie got a long pass down ice to Hartnell, who held the puck, then deked Lundqvist to the ice and banked it in off his skate 8:49 into the third.

Then Gagne scored the Flyers' sixth consecutive goal on a snap shot off a pass from Daniel Briere.

"Our goaltending with [Marty Biron] and [Niittymaki], both have allowed us to gain confidence,'' Stevens said. "On the road you're going to get outplayed sometimes and we got down 2-0 and I just love the resilience of our team.

"On the road, against the Rangers, they haven't won in a while, they came at us hard and we regrouped and started to take the game over. It was great to see."

Last word on Downie hit

General manager Paul Holmgren said senior vice president Bob Clarke apologized to him on Wednesday for his remarks about Steve Downie. Clarke's comments contradicted Holmgren's statements concerning Downie and his sucker punch to Toronto's Jason Blake last Saturday and how the organization felt about it. *

General manager Paul Holmgren said senior vice president Bob Clarke apologized to him on Wednesday for his remarks about Steve Downie. Clarke's comments contradicted Holmgren's statements concerning Downie and his sucker punch to Toronto's Jason Blake last Saturday and how the organization felt about it. *