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Flyers stick with the line that clicks

Talented forward Simon Gagne turned the corner in Game 6, thanks to Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau.

JOANNE KORTH
Published May 23, 2004

TAMPA - Flyers wing Simon Gagne had just one assist in the East final before Game 6, prompting general manager Bob Clarke to challenge the 24-year-old wing.

Gagne never played badly, Clarke said, but rarely played great.

Gagne responded by scoring two goals in Game 6, including the winner in overtime.

"Usually, I don't read the paper, but I had a couple calls from back home in Montreal," Gagne said of Clarke's comments, published the morning of the game in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Maybe it's a message or something he was trying to tell me. I think the chance was there the last couple of games, but not the way to find to put the puck in. (Thursday) was a great moment to do it, and that's something I have to do every game."

Gagne, who recently was named to Canada's World Cup team, seemed to benefit from a small adjustment to the Flyers' third line. Coach Ken Hitchcock added wing Jeremy Roenick to the line centered by captain Keith Primeau in Game 6. The three clicked right away, accounting for four of Philadelphia's five goals. The three skated together again in Game 7.

"I think we clicked very well," Gagne said. "I was excited when I saw that line on the board."

During the regular season, Gagne led the team with six winning goals. His 18 even-strength goals and 211 shots also were team highs. He scored in 14 of the final 28 games.

"I play with Simon every night and I know that he's giving 100 percent every chance he gets," Primeau said.

"I play with him every shift and the kid has got more courage than most people. I know he's not as big as most guys, but he's driving right through so I know I'll get a chance to get the puck."

Still, the true measure of a scorer in the playoffs is, well, goals. And though Primeau has been a scoring machine in the series with four goals and four assists, Gagne was lagging behind.

"The finishing touch for Simon Gagne is scoring," Hitchcock said. "He's always a good player in every game. He does so many things that a coach loves. But in the end, if he is going to be an impact player, no different than Jarome Iginla or Patrick Marleau, you have got to score."

Calgary's Iginla leads the playoffs with 10 goals.

Hitchcock said adding Roenick to the Primeau line was not an effort to create space for Gagne, though it had that effect.

"The reason we put J.R. there was that with all the chances that Keith and his linemates were getting, if we had someone that could finish off those chances it might afford us some more goals," Hitchcock said. "It happened to work out."

Lightning center Vinny Lecavalier, a Montreal native who grew up competing against Gagne's Quebec teams, said he was not surprised to see the speedy wing come up big with the Flyers on the brink of elimination.

"We go back from Adam, since we were 10 years old," Lecavalier said.

"He's a great player and he's definitely got speed. He hasn't scored a lot of goals in the playoffs, but in Game 6 he proved that he can step up his game and score a big goal. Two big goals, the one to tie it and to win it. He's definitely a determined guy."

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