IT DIDN'T TAKE long for the Flyers' most ornery line to start the mayhem.

It was the first shift of the first period and Scott Hartnell had just checked Florida's Jay Bouwmeester into the boards. It wasn't a vicious hit or anything, but did get the Panthers' attention.

Florida captain Olli Jokinen, who came into the game with a modest 37 penalty minutes, charged over to Hartnell and ignited a fight that actually was more of a wrestling match.

Still, Hartnell's line had announced its presence.

The Flyers beat Florida last night, 5-3, at the Wachovia Center, and the contributions were numerous. The power play continued to click. The goaltender made some outstanding saves. The All-Star defenseman, again, was steady.

But it was the line of Hartnell, Mike Richards and Steve Downie that again provided the juice as the Flyers improved to 8-1-2 in their last 11. Hartnell's fight with Jokinen was only the first act.

"He came after me," Hartnell said. "I didn't expect a fight in the first shift, but I had to do it. It wasn't one of my best fights, but we were able to feed off that."

Jokinen mentioned to Hartnell in the penalty box that he was retaliating for a punch by Hartnell on Florida's Nathan Horton in the teams' last meeting on Dec. 30.

"I don't even remember that," Hartnell said. "I guess they were thinking about that for a long time. Stuff like that happens."

Less than 2 minutes after the fight, Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen opened the scoring by fluttering a shot over the forearm and under the shoulder of Florida's Tomas Vokoun. Timonen, who will make his third All-Star appearance on Jan. 27, also registered a pair of assists, while quarterbacking the power play. Timonen has had consecutive three-point games and his 26 points lead Flyers defensemen.

"He and Danny Briere, in my opinion, have settled down the power play from Day 1," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "You've got a guy up top and a guy down low that have all kinds of composure."

The Flyers came into the game with the league's second-best power play and the best at home. They were 2-for-6 last night and are now 27-for-101 (26.7 percent) at home.

The Flyers jumped to a 4-1 lead, but let Florida back in the game with two second-period goals. The first came directly from a giveaway by Derian Hatcher, the other was off a Panthers power play. Instead of wilting, Flyers goaltender Antero Niittymaki stiffened. His best save came when he dived with the blade of his stick to foil a Richard Zednik look at an open net 5 minutes into the third.

The play had to put Zednik in a foul mood. Hartnell would only aggravate that mood 10 minutes later.

"He made an unbelievable save there with a yawning net," Stevens said. "I really think the team gains confidence from that. You look at that play and say, 'Man, he really saved us there. Let's really dig in and get it done.' "

Niittymaki made 28 saves and improved to 5-0-1 since Dec. 30, when he began taking a piece of the goaltending duties from Marty Biron. Biron will start the Flyers' next game, Saturday at the New York Islanders.

"I am pretty happy with the way I played," Niittymaki said, then elaborated on his sprawling save against Zednik: "You just take a dive and hope it hits you. It is good to make a save like that, but at the end of the day, it has a lot to do with luck."

Niittymaki later denied Zednik on a couple of chances that also would have tied the game. Zednik's bad night got worse when he challenged Hartnell to a fight.

"We were just kind of battling in front of the net and he asked me to 'go,' " said Hartnell, who landed three quick blows to Zednik's jaw that required stitches on the Flyers winger's right hand. "Then when I fell down, he got me with one when I was on the ground, and I cut my lip a little bit. I'm racking up the [penalty minutes], I guess." *