Simon Gagne's successful return fuels Flyers

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Wayne Simmonds takes a seat after beating Caps goalie Braden Holtby to give Flyers early, 2-0 lead.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Wayne Simmonds takes a seat after beating Caps goalie Braden Holtby to give Flyers early, 2-0 lead.
Posted: March 01, 2013

WHEN SIMON GAGNE buttoned his suit jacket and walked through the familiar, wood-paneled players' entrance underneath the Wells Fargo Center, Scott Hartnell had a smile on his face.

"Seeing him for the first time, coming into the rink, it was pretty cool to see him," Hartnell said. "He obviously feels comfortable. He played here 10-plus years. He definitely added a little more excitement to the dressing room and I think it showed right from the get-go."

Gagne, reacquired from Los Angeles on Tuesday, received a lengthy ovation and powered the Flyers to a 4-1 rout Wednesday night over Washington with his first goal of the season.

It was Gagne's first goal as a Flyer since June 6, 2010, when he beat Chicago's Antti Niemi in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Gagne, who turns 33 on Friday, churned out 16 minutes of ice time after arriving in Philadelphia at 6:10 on Wednesday morning on a cross-country, red-eye flight. He couldn't have planned his return to the Flyers organization, which he joined as an 18-year-old in 1998, much better.

"I didn't have a nice night of sleep," Gagne said with his familiar French accent. "At the end, coming here and getting a big win, scoring that tap-in goal, that was a good scenario for sure."

The Flyers were finally able to string together a 60-minute effort - and did so while taking advantage of a weary Capitals team that played the night before. The only thing missing from the game was a fight.

With the win, the Flyers crawled back into a playoff spot in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 21 points, five behind Atlantic Division-leading Pittsburgh. Washington had entered 4-0-3 in its last seven trips to Philadelphia.

Aside from Gagne's first-game magic, the Flyers limited Washington to only 14 shots through the first 50-plus minutes. Ilya Bryzgalov's bid for his 31st career shutout was thwarted by Joel Ward's strong take to the net with 2:09 to play.

The Flyers - and their fans - were on top of struggling star Alex Ovechkin all night. At one point during the third period, a frustrated Ovechkin tripped over his own skates at the blue line and wearily skated off to the Capitals' bench. Mocking "Ovi, Ovi" chants ensued in singsongy delight.

Through all the positives, including Max Talbot's first goal of the season, the night belonged to Gagne. The Flyers' fourth all-time leading left wing scorer was serenaded with a video tribute during the first period and he saluted the crowd.

"Right off the first shift, we had a scoring chance by Gagne," said Talbot, the Flyers' last regular forward to score this season. "Obviously a good player like that, he played here for a while, he's loved by everybody, to come back here and score in his first game was huge for us. It brought a lot of energy and passion to the game."

Even after 665 games with the Flyers, Gagne still believes he has more wear left on his tires.

"I've been here 13 years [in the league]," Gagne said. "I still have some good hockey left in me, but at the same time, the end is coming. I've got the experience, it's on my side, between winning the Cup in LA, and Philadelphia is not an easy place to play. The more I'm going to play, the more my game is going to be better."

Gustafsson hurt

Another game, another injury for the Flyers. Defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who has been an important, mobile addition since his recall from Adirondack, left 7 minutes into the second period and did not return.

Officially, the Flyers called it a "lower-body" injury, but Gustafsson was suffering from groin discomfort. The injury is considered to be relatively minor. Gustafsson told reporters postgame that blocking a shot caused a shin injury. He missed more than a month of action in the AHL with an ankle fracture in December.

Slap shots

Forward Mike Knuble, 40, was a healthy scratch against his former team. It was his first visit to the press box since signing with the Flyers on Jan. 24 as a free agent . . . With Knuble sitting and Tye McGinn sidelined with a fractured orbital bone, speedy Harry Zolnierczyk returned to the lineup . . . Zolnierczyk, wearing No. 37 after giving up his No. 12 jersey to Gagne, was whistled for a 5-minute major kneeing penalty after a knee-to-knee hit on Mathieu Perreault in the final minute of the game . . . Flyers chairman Ed Snider welcomed governor Tom Corbett to the game.

On Twitter: @DNFlyers


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