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Persistence pays off for slumping Hartnell

BOSTON - It had been 21 games since Scott Hartnell scored a goal. It looked like it might be 21 more.

BOSTON - It had been 21 games since Scott Hartnell scored a goal.

It looked like it might be 21 more.

Not since March 18, a span of 53 days, had Hartnell found the net. He appeared to have broken that drought in the first period last night. He even addressed the goal during an interview between periods.

Then, credit for his goal was switched to Ville Leino during the intermission. The announcement came at the start of the second.

Hartnell looked up at the speakers in the TD Garden, mouth open.

He said, softly, "Ah, geez. What can you do to get a break around here?"

No worry. Just over 11 minutes later Hartnell batted Danny Briere's airborne chip into the net to make it 2-0. With the Flyers enduring rush after rush from a Bruins club determined to end the Eastern Conference semifinal in Game 5, with starting goalie Brian Boucher just replaced by freshly healed Michael Leighton, that goal resonated loudly in the 4-0 win.

It was a bright spot amid a cloudy stretch for Hartnell.

After two seasons of very good play, Hartnell fell from favor among the Flyers' faithful. The flailing, the falling, the failure - none of it came through lack of effort. But effort gets you only so far in the NHL, in Philadelphia, on a Flyers team with title aspirations - especially coming off a career season.

Every night, Hartnell left little pieces of himself on the ice. Every night, he was absent in the scoring line.

"My game is more than scoring goals," he said, proudly. "It's the forecheck. It's defense."

It's scoring goals, too.

"Hopefully, now, they'll come in bunches," he said. They have in the past.

His 2008-2009 season, the second of a 6-year, $25.3 million deal, saw him hit career highs with 30 goals, 30 assists and 60 points. The 30 goals marked the fourth straight season with at least 22.

Then, after four seasons of ascension, this season: 14 goals; once, a streak of one goal in 20 games. Then none in 21.

"There've been a couple of slumps. It was a little frustrating," Hartnell said.

It was more than frustrating last night.

"I thought I'd scored that first goal," Hartnell said. "I thought I'd slapped it over the top shelf."

Having gone dry in April, all he could do after Leino took his goal was hope he got another chance . . . this month.

That chance came sooner rather than later. Hartnell camped on the post by Tuukka Rask's left side, poised as a scrum unfolded across the ice.

"I was kind of hanging on the side of the net. They were over there, battling," Hartnell said. Briere saw him, flipped the puck up and Hartnell rammed it home.

"I practice it every day - whacking pucks out of the air," Hartnell said, maddened by the first-period tease. "When I hit it, I almost broke my stick on the post, I wanted to get it in there so bad."