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Hatcher, Niittymaki lift Flyers to 1-0 win

SUNRISE, Fla. - It was almost as painful to watch as Florida's returns on the presidential election night.

SUNRISE, Fla. - It was almost as painful to watch as Florida's returns on the presidential election night.

The Flyers and Florida Panthers slogged their way up and down the ice with seeming disinterest for almost 50 minutes - and no one scored.

"The ice was so awful, I felt bad for the fans to have sit there and watch that," said Flyers center Danny Briere.

It was so bad, the only goal scorer was Derian Hatcher.

The defenseman's goal at 9 minutes, 14 seconds of the third period tonight gave the Flyers a 1-0 victory at the BankAtlantic Center, extending their winning streak to three games. It marks their longest streak since winning five straight on Oct. 10-20.

The truth is, goalie Antero Niittymaki stole the game, making 38 saves to post his third career shutout. It was his first in 85 appearances, since Jan. 2, 2006, in Boston.

"He was outstanding," coach John Stevens said. "He made some great saves throughout the hockey game."

Not bad for a goalie who hadn't played in five games.

"I'm kind of used to it because I've been doing it for three months now," Niittymaki said. "You try to be mentally ready when you get the call and hope the guys play well."

He was ready. His teammates were not, being outshot, 38-20.

Hatcher's second goal of the season was set up by Stefan Ruzicka, whose shot from the left circle hit the skate of Panthers defenseman Bryan Allen. The rebound went across the slot to Hatcher, who backhanded the puck into the net on goalie Tomas Vokoun.

"It's always nice to score," Hatcher said. "Their D-man was holding the line. Originally, I thought it might be a two-on-one if Rosey could get the puck by him. Their third man came up high and it turned out to be a two-on-two. Rosey made a good play to get it through the net.

"It pretty much bounced right onto my stick there. The ice was horrible; it was hot out there. Far and away, it wasn't our best game. In general, it wasn't a great hockey game."

Stevens' take on the winning goal?

"Hatcher went to net using his speed and banged in the goal," the coach said, trying to keep a straight face.

Niittymaki had an outstanding opening period, making pad saves at both posts and an unbelievable glove deflection on Stephen Weiss' attempted tap-in as the puck dangled near the goal line.

The Flyers were outshot by 14-3 in the period. Weiss and Radek Dvorak had six quality shots between them. Through the first 25 minutes of play, the Flyers averaged one shot every five minutes. They must have been working on their tans.

"That first period he was really there for us," winger Scott Hartnell said of Niittymaki. "Any bad rebounds we left out there, he made every save. That penalty shot was huge. He stoned him."

Ah, yes, the penalty shot. Referee Eric Furlatt made an outrageous call against the Flyers, giving Dvorak a penalty shot after Rory Fitzpatrick attempted to hook the winger and missed. It should not have been a penalty shot, but Niittymaki got his blocker on Dvorak's attempt.

"I felt early on, Nitty was dialed in," Stevens said. ". . . That gave us a lot of confidence when he made the save there."

Going back to Jan. 8, 2004, Flyers goalies have stoned eight straight penalty shooters, including three this season.

"They had some chance early in the game, but after that, they just threw the puck at the net, so I got a lot of shots," Niittymaki said. "Halfway through the game, we played a lot better."

Stevens changed up his lines in the second period, putting Mike Knuble back on the top line with Briere and R.J. Umberger and dropping Ruzicka to Jeff Carter's unit with Sami Kapanen.

It didn't make a difference. The Flyers had just eight shots in the period and their best scoring chance was Ryan Potulny's drive into Vokoun's pads.

It didn't matter. Niittymaki was there for them.

In the waning seconds of the game, with Florida's goalie pulled, Niittymaki made a tough chest-high save on Olli Jokinen from the high slot. Not bad for a guy who had not played since Dec. 16 at New Jersey.

"We had the perfect setup and went for a great shot [by Jokinen], but he was very good," Panthers coach Jacques Martin said of the Flyers' goalie.

Indeed, he stole two points.