RALEIGH, N.C. - The Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes are like Sean Avery and controversy.

They just can't seem to get away from each other.

Facing Carolina for the third time in their last six games, the Flyers played another down-to-the-wire thriller tonight as they defeated the Hurricanes, 2-1, on Jeff Carter's overtime goal with 1 minute, 26 seconds left.

It was Carter's 19th goal - tied for the league lead - and it moved the Flyers to within two points of second-place Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division.

Carter won a face-off from former Flyer Rod Brind'Amour, gained control of the puck and fired a shot past goalie Michael Leighton's right side.

"It was kind of a broken play," said Carter, whose club is 9-1-3 in its last 13 games. "I was actually trying to go back to the point and it kind of bounced straight up and I got a little position on him and spun and fired it."

"Give Jeff credit. He finds a way to get the puck at the net," coach John Stevens said.

This was the Flyers' third consecutive overtime game, fourth in the last five games, and 11th in 26 games this season. They are 5-6 in games that end in overtime or a shoot-out.

Backup goalie Antero Niittymaki played well, stopping 36 shots as he raised his record to 4-1-2 and lowered his goals-against average to 2.44. The Flyers are 2-1 against Carolina, with both wins notched by Niittymaki.

"It is what it is, and I try to get some points when I get a chance to play," said Niittymaki, who has a .925 save percentage and has been the Flyers' most consistent goalie.

Defenseman Andrew Alberts blocked three shots and took a team-high 10 shots (three on net). Stevens called it "the best game I've ever seen him play. He continues to get better."

"It's nice to know he has confidence in me. I think I've been climbing the last two or three weeks," said Alberts, acquired from Boston earlier in the season.

Mike Richards took a slick pass from Simon Gagne and scored on a shorthanded breakaway after just 3:59 to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. It was Richards' fourth shorthanded goal of the season and it gave the Flyers a league-best 11 shorthanded goals. (They are on a pace for 35.)

The NHL record for shorthanded goals: 36 by Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton in 1983-84.

Gagne, who missed the last half of Thursday's 3-2 loss to New Jersey because of dehydration and fatigue, returned to the lineup and played well in a little less than 18 minutes.

Breakaways. The Flyers will play Carolina again Thursday, at the Wachovia Center. . . . Darroll Powe took some of Gagne's shorthanded shifts. . . . After Richards' shorthanded score, 11 of the Flyers' last 12 goals were on special teams. . . . The Flyers have scored first in 10 of their last 11 games. . . . Defenseman Matt Carle, suffering from back spasms, did not make the trip. "He's still tight and continuing his rehab, and we'll see where it goes next week when we get back at practice," Stevens said. . . . Defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who missed the last few minutes of Thursday's game with a bruised shoulder, played solidly, as did Ossi Vaananen.

Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181