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Little-known defenseman big as Flyers win

By wire services
Published December 21, 2003

PHILADELPHIA - Jim Vandermeer has the flu to thank for the first two-goal game of his career.

With fellow rookie defenseman Joni Pitkanen sidelined, Vandermeer stepped into the lineup and filled up the scoresheet.

He scored the tying goal in the second period and put the Flyers ahead in the third during a 3-1 victory Saturday over the Islanders. Vandermeer played in Pitkanen's absence Thursday, when Pitkanen was a healthy scratch.

"We both know that it's a numbers game," Vandermeer said. "We take it day by day and we're not really sure who's in and who's not."

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock was impressed.

"We have to make a decision on whether he is going to stay in the lineup because he is emerging," Hitchcock said. "Every game he plays, he is getting better and better."

Simon Gagne added a power-play goal for Philadelphia with 7:26 left and Robert Esche made 18 saves in his return from injury.

New York has consecutive losses after a 4-0-0-1 stretch. The Islanders looked better than in a 4-3 loss at the Rangers on Thursday, but not enough to win their first road game since Nov. 19 at Florida (0-5-0-1).

"It seems like at home we play pretty hard," forward Arron Asham said. "Then we come on the road and play hard for a period, period and a half, but that's not enough to win."

Also, Mike Comrie moved a step closer to getting back on the ice when he signed a one-year deal with the Flyers. Comrie was traded by the Oilers on Tuesday because of a contract dispute.

THRASHERS 7, PENGUINS 4: Marc Savard had a goal and four assists and Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Kozlov each had two goals as visiting Atlanta broke out of its offensive slump.

Savard established a career high for points in a game. Kovalchuk added three assists and broke an eight-game goal drought. He tied Columbus' Rick Nash for the league goal-scoring lead with 20. Kovalchuk's five points also matched his career high.

Kozlov had two assists as the Thrashers won for the first time since beating Pittsburgh 6-3 Dec. 12.

The league's second-highest scoring team had been shut out in a team-record three consecutive games, but Ronald Petrovicky scored eight seconds in and Atlanta added three more goals in the opening 30 minutes.

MAPLE LEAFS 4, CANADIENS 2: Mats Sundin scored the go-ahead goal with 29 seconds left and host Toronto extended its franchise-record point streak to 14 games. Wade Belak scored Toronto's tying goal in the third and Bryan McCabe added an empty-netter for the Maple Leafs, 12-0-1-1 during the streak.

Belak, a defenseman known more for fighting, scored his first goal of the season at 8:31 of the third by skating toward the net and putting a rebound past goalie Jose Theodore.

SENATORS 3, RANGERS 1: Curtis Leschyshyn, Peter Schaefer and Jason Spezza scored to lead host Ottawa. Patrick Lalime made 24 saves for Ottawa, which scored three straight goals after falling behind 1-0 for the 19th time in 31 games.

HURRICANES 2, BRUINS 1: Radim Vrbata and Eric Staal scored goals and Kevin Weekes made 37 saves to lead visiting Carolina, which has won consecutive games under new coach Peter Laviolette. "I know that nothing will happen overnight. I'm going to work to gain their trust and their respect and I hope they're going to work to gain mine," Laviolette said.

WILD 5, BLUE JACKETS 2: Wes Walz scored twice and Minnesota ran its unbeaten streak to five. Walz scored short-handed in the first and the Blue Jackets were outscored on their own power play for the second straight night. Columbus remained the only team without a road victory, falling to 0-11-1-2 away from Ohio.

PREDATORS 1, RED WINGS 0: Dan Hamhuis scored at 8:33 of the third and Tomas Vokoun stopped 21 shots for host Nashville, which is undefeated against Detroit this season, improving to 3-0 over the West's best team.

BLUES 1, COYOTES 1: Chris Osgood stopped 24 shots for St. Louis and Sean Burke of visiting Phoenix had 30 saves. Phoenix's Shane Doan scored a short-handed goal 5:59 in, and Pavol Demitra tied it with a power-play goal with 6:02 left in the second. The Blues are 7-0-2 in December.

MAGNUSON MEMORIAL: Keith Magnuson was remembered at a service in Lake Forest, Ill., as a fierce competitor whose blue-collar approach endeared him to Chicago fans. Magnuson, 56, was killed Monday in three-car accident in Toronto. Magnuson was a rugged defenseman for the Blackhawks from 1969-80 and coached the team for 11/2 seasons. Former Blackhawks greats including Stan Mikita joined friends, family and fans at the hourlong service, which drew an estimated 500.

[Last modified December 21, 2003, 01:16:22]

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