Forsberg, Flyers face character test

DAVID W. UNKLE -- For SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 2:11 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA — Of all the players on the Philadelphia Flyers roster, the least-likely person to benefit from a coaching change was future NHL Hall-of Famer, Peter Forsberg.

But when the Flyers left the Wachovia Centre ice with a 3-2, shootout victory over the Atlanta Thrashers, it was Forsberg who was most-instrumental in giving newly-installed, head coach John Stevens a win in his NHL head coaching debut.

After giving Philadelphia a one-goal lead at the start of the third period, Forsberg scored the decisive goal in the three-round shootout, as the Flyers grabbed their first, home-ice victory of the 2006-07 season.

Atlanta head coach Bob Hartley surprised the announced crowd of 19,228 by removing starting netminder Johan Hedberg in favor of Kari Lehtonen at the end of the overtime period.

“It’s basically like a baseball manager,” said Hartley. “You have Mariano Rivera sitting on the bench in the ninth inning, and he’s your closer. Kari is our number one…and we feel like the biggest goalie, the guy that can make a difference in the shootout, is Kari.”

“Obviously, it great to get the first win,” said Stevens, who was also surprised by Hartley’s baseball-like strategy.

“The hockey team needs something to build on, and we need to something to build the confidence of our hockey team.”

All eyes were on Stevens, who in the span of less than five months, went from head coach of the Philadelphia Phantoms (the Flyers AHL-affiliate), and then the Flyers assistant coach, to being the number one guy behind the Flyers bench.

Randy Robitaille’s marker less than two minutes into the game was the kind of start that Stevens, and the Flyers, were looking for.

Mike Knuble, playing on a line with Robitaille and Jeff Carter, collected the puck in the Flyers end of the ice, and went coast-to-coast, before threading the puck over two Atlanta defenders and onto Robitaille’s stick.

Atlanta tied the score at 7:06 of the first period on a breakaway goal by Ilya Kovalchuk.

With the Flyers swarming in the Atlanta end, Derian Hatcher’s blast from the high slot deflected off Knuble, and onto the stick of Thrashers forward, Jon Sim.

The former Flyer dished the puck to Kovalchuk, who beat netminder Antero Niittymaki for his seventh goal of the season.

Of the last 18 goals scored against the Flyers over the last four games, Hatcher has been on the ice for 12 of them.

The Flyers’ power play continued to struggle, failing to capitalize on two man-advantage opportunities through two periods, before Forsberg snapped the team’s 1-for-31 drought.

With Andy Sutton in the penalty box, Forsberg banked the puck off the skate of netminder Johan Hedberg and into the Atlanta net at 0:56 of the third period.

“This is the kind of game that we need to play,” said Sanderson, “a low-scoring game, where we capitalize on the opponents mistakes.”

A healthy-scratch, Sanderson has been one of the team’s few bright spots, and his two goals and five points this season ranked third on the team in total scoring.

In his place, Stevens dressed rookie Stefan Ruzicka, who looked lost playing on the top line with Forsberg and Simon Gagne.

Atlanta’s Bobby Holik scored midway through the third period, setting the stage for Forsberg’s heroics.

“This is a big win tonight,” said Forsberg, as the Flyers snapped a four-game losing streak. “It’s a good start to our home stand.”


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