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Flyers' big chance blows away

The Windy City's team kept them out of first place - easily.

"It was a good Christmas present," says Claude Giroux, who fought for possession with the Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp last night. Giroux was the Flyers' top draft pick in 2006.
"It was a good Christmas present," says Claude Giroux, who fought for possession with the Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp last night. Giroux was the Flyers' top draft pick in 2006.Read moreNAM Y. HUH / Associated Press

CHICAGO - The Flyers, looking listless after a two-day holiday break, missed a chance to move into a first-place tie in the Atlantic Division last night.

In their first stop on a six-game, 12-day trip, the Flyers dropped a 5-1 decision to the streaking Chicago Blackhawks in front of a record sellout crowd at the United Center.

Chicago scored two five-on-three power-play goals early in the third period to pull away from a 2-1 lead before the crowd of 22,712, the largest in franchise history to watch a regular-season game.

The Blackhawks got goals from five players and also equaled a franchise record with their eighth consecutive victory. They won eight in a row in 1971 and 1981.

Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg and Dave Bolland scored in the final period for Chicago.

The loss was costly for the Flyers. Defenseman Kimmo Timonen suffered a chip fracture of his right ankle and will miss at least a week, according to general manager Paul Holmgren. Left winger Scott Hartnell ended up with a broken big toe and is doubtful for tonight's game at Columbus. Both were injured blocking shots.

In one of their worst performances of the season, the Flyers - who could have tied the division-leading New York Rangers with a win - were outshot by 19-2 during a 26-minute stretch after the first period.

The Flyers were assessed 10 of the game's 14 penalties.

"It doesn't get much rougher than that," coach John Stevens said. "We had some travel problems today, and it looked like we were too ready to use that as an excuse. You can't do that. This team [Chicago] has only lost one game at home this season for a reason."

Stevens added: "I thought we were cheating all over the ice tonight and taking too many penalties, and they've got too much skill when you do that."

The Flyers had two days off and, because their plane was delayed in landing yesterday, missed their morning skate.

So it wasn't surprising that the team - and goalie Marty Biron, who returned to the lineup after missing five games because of the flu - looked rusty early.

The roar from Jim Cornelison's stirring rendition of the national anthem had barely subsided before the Blackhawks were up by 2-0 after 2 minutes, 35 seconds.

Andrew Ladd gave Chicago a 1-0 lead, knocking in a rebound of Martin Havlat's shot after just 1:13.

A little more than a minute later, Patrick Sharp, pilfered by Chicago in a 2005 deal that sent the immortal Matt Ellison and a third-round draft pick to the Flyers, increased the lead to 2-0 when he scored from the slot, rifling his 19th goal of the season inside the right post. A giveaway by rookie Claude Giroux led to the goal.

With 12:18 remaining in the opening period, Mike Richards scored on a rebound, tallying his 15th goal of the season after Arron Asham knocked the puck off goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.

"We knew this was going to be a tough one, especially coming off of a little bit of a break and no morning skate," Richards said.

"You're going to be a little stiff, but I thought we responded well" in the first period, he said.  "We got the puck to the net a little more, played the body, and it ended up working for us."

Before the game, Richards was asked to evaluate the Flyers' season.

"We're doing a lot of good things and finding ways to win hockey games," the first-year captain said. "We're giving ourselves a shot every single night we play. We've been consistent, and that's one thing we stressed before the season - play consistent and not get in any droughts.

"Even some days when we don't have our legs, we're finding ways to win, and that's a good thing."

The Flyers regained their legs in the latter stages of the first period, and Glen Metropolit's line sustained pressure in the Blackhawks' end for more than a minute. The pressure resulted in a top-of-the-slot drive by Randy Jones that Khabibulin saved.

At the end of the period, Richards and Mike Knuble had a two-on-one, but Knuble couldn't get off much of a shot as he was slashed by Jonathan Toews with less than a second remaining. That gave the Flyers a power play they carried into the second period.

The Flyers, who took into the game a league-best 27.9 percent success rate on the power play, moved the puck crisply. But the power play lasted just 1:10 because Knuble was whistled for tripping.

Chicago dominated the second period, outshooting the Flyers by 14-1. Biron kept the Flyers close with superb saves on close shots by Troy Brouwer, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane.

The Flyers equaled a dubious club record: fewest shots in a period. They had just one in six other periods in their 41-year history.

And the bad weather that started their woes yesterday caused more problems after the loss. The Flyers could not leave Chicago last night because of fog.