Alex the Great came to the Wachovia Center yesterday but was upstaged by Nitty the Mitty.
As in Walter Mitty, the fictional character immortalized in James Thurber's story more than a half century ago. Mitty was an ordinary person who fantasized about extraordinary personal triumphs.
Nitty - Flyers backup goalie Antero Niittymaki - can relate.
In the Flyers' hard-to-comprehend 7-1 win over the Washington Capitals, Niittymaki's performance seemed more fantasy than real life.
"I've seen him good, but he was great today," Flyers coach John Stevens said.
"We didn't start out like we wanted to," said winger Scott Hartnell after scoring his second hat trick in the last five games, "but the guy between the pipes basically stood on his head."
The Flyers won despite being outshot by 48-28. It was their most lopsided victory in a game in which they were outshot by at least 20 shots.
With Marty Biron still battling the flu, Niittymaki made saves with his glove, with his stick, and even with his butt. He made conventional saves, but also made several while lying on the ice and seemingly in a helpless position. He'd throw up his glove or stick and knock the puck out of harm's way while the sellout crowd roared and stood, roared and stood.
Twenty-five of the saves were in the first period, a road record for Washington shots in any period. It was also the most shots ever taken by an opponent on the Flyers' home ice, breaking the mark of 22 by Boston in the third period Dec. 28, 1975.
"When your goalie plays that well early and allows your team to regroup, he really is the reason we won," said Stevens, whose team was outshot by a 25-6 first-period margin but held a 1-0 lead on Joffrey Lupul's goal. "We got a lot better as the game wore on. . . . But the only reason we were allowed to regroup was because of his play."
"They could have had four, five, six goals in the first period," said Jeff Carter, who scored his 23d and 24th goals.
Niittymaki made 12 saves against Alex Ovechkin, who spent the afternoon shaking his head in disbelief after being beaten by the 28-year-old goalie.
All told, Niittymaki made 47 saves.
"You don't even think about it," said Niittymaki, who was helped by a handful of shots that hit posts. "You just go save-by-save and try to make the next save. You look up and it's 20-some saves [in the first period]. I think it was good for me after the Montreal game to get a couple of good saves and start feeling better."
The Old City Line - Philly residents Carter, Hartnell and Lupul - scored six of the Flyers' seven goals and had 12 points.
"We ended their season last year and there was a lot of motivation for them," Stevens said of Washington, which lost to the Flyers in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. "They felt like we stole something from them."
Stevens said he has not decided if Biron will play today in New Jersey. . . . Center Glen Metropolit, coming off perhaps his strongest game of the season, was scratched with a back injury suffered in the pregame stretch. He is listed as day to day. Lasse Kukkonen, normally a defenseman, took 10 shifts up front in Metropolit's absence.
Defenseman Randy Jones was recalled from the Phantoms but scratched. Jones, who has missed the season after undergoing hip surgery, could make his season debut this afternoon. . . . After the game, the Flyers recalled forward Jon Kalinski from the Phantoms.