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MARCH 2000

Philadelphia Daily News (By Les Bowen) -- March 22, 2000

NASHVILLE - Early in Simon Gagne's rookie season, you had to be attuned to subtle things to know why the Flyers were so excited about their 1998 No. 1 draft pick.

Scouts and other players talked about the way Gagne read the play, his passing, his defensive positioning, his poise. But if you just followed the team through box scores, you saw a kid with six goals through the first 37 games.

Suddenly, though, there is nothing subtle about Gagne, who assisted on the first Flyers goal last night and scored the second, leading an efficient 2-0 grind past the Nashville Predators. Gagne has four goals in his last three games, along with two assists. For the season, he has 19 goals and 24 assists.

Early on, Gagne looked nifty, but his then-19-year-old frame seemed a little too slight for banging down low, for going to the net with pucks. It seemed he might need a year or two of filling out to make good on his promise.

Except, right now, he's doing just fine.

"The last six games, he's gone to the net as well as anyone on our team," winger Rick Tocchet said, on a night when the Flyers moved within three points of the Eastern Conference-leading New Jersey Devils, with the Devils' home loss to Carolina. The Flyers still have a game in hand.

"He's elevated his play, his confidence level is obviously up. He wins a lot of battles to get pucks. . .He likes to be out there in a lot of key situations," said interim coach Craig Ramsay. "I think it was a matter of understanding how hard you have to work to go get [the puck]. A lot of kids coming out of junior don't really understand that."

Gagne, always a centerman growing up, has played a lot of wing lately. Linemate Mark Recchi said the decreased defensive responsibilities on wing might have allowed Gagne to be more effective offensively.

"He's skating very well, driving to the net hard," Recchi said. "It takes courage to go to the net like that."

Gagne said he has found "I can use my speed more" on wing.

"I'm trying to roll on the hit, keep the puck a little bit longer," Gagne said. "I'm starting to feel more comfortable on wing."

The Flyers' other top rookie, Brian Boucher, also played a big role in the victory by gaining his third shutout with a 27-save effort.

"He made some key saves in the first period when we weren't very good, then near the end of the game as well," Ramsay said.

The second-year expansion Predators came in having gained at least a point in each of their last five games - they were 3-1-1, with the lone loss coming in overtime, after they'd been awarded the point for the regulation tie. Early on, they were as feisty and aggressive as advertised, hustling up more scoring chances than the Flyers. Boucher had to be sharp to keep the Flyers even at 0-0 going into the first intermission, with Nashville putting 13 shots on net to the Flyers' six.

The Flyers were sharper in the second. On a power play, John LeClair teed a puck up at the right circle and blasted it top shelf. It was LeClair's 37th goal of the season, 7:18 into the period.

Seconds earlier, LeClair had been yelling for a whistle, with Nashville defenseman Marc Moro lying on the puck in the corner. But ref Kerry Fraser disdained LeClair's pleas, and eventually, the puck popped loose, finding its way to the circle. Even though LeClair took a big windup, Dunham seemed surprised by the shot, perhaps distracted by a Keith Primeau screen.

It was 2-0 with 9:18 left in the second when Gagne forced home an Eric Desjardins rebound.

After that, the game belonged to the Flyers, who might have caught a break in that the Predators were playing on the much-feared second day back from the West Coast, a well-known hockey dead-leg zone.

"We took control in the second half of the game, for sure," said Boucher, who needed assistance from Flyers athletic trainer John Worley after taking a Tom Fitzgerald shot off his already bruised collarbone 7:20 into the first. He did not leave the game.

"Usually, we get a lot of shots early. Tonight was kind of a role reversal, but you get into a flow when you're seeing some shots," Boucher said.

If the Flyers had done just a little better than 1-4 in their season series with the Devils, they'd be atop the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference this morning. But three points back is pretty amazing, given that the Flyers' Feb. 15 loss at the Devils made the gap 15.

"A month ago, we'd have never thought this was possible," Recchi said. "We'll give it a run, that's for sure. We've got nine games left."

The Canadian Press -- March 19, 2000

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Rookie Simon Gagne's unassisted goal midway through the second period broke a tie, and John LeClair had a goal and two assists as the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Boston Bruins 6-2 Sunday afternoon.

Keith Primeau and Keith Jones added a goal and an assist each, and Daymond Langkow and Rick Tocchet also scored for Philadelphia (38-22-12-2).

The Flyers had two goals within spans of 31 and 15 seconds during the second and third periods in winning for the first time in three games.

Brandon Smith and Andre Savage scored for the Bruins (22-33-17-6), who had won three of their four previous games in a desperate attempt to sneak into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Gagne, who also had two assists, broke a 2-2 tie at 10:08 of the second period. He swept the puck off the boards deep in the Philadelphia zone, outskated Boston defenders Kyle McLaren and Smith, and converted a wrist shot from the left circle.

LeClair and Langkow scored goals within 15 seconds early in the third period to break the game open and chase rookie goaltender John Grahame, who had won his previous two starts.

LeClair skated in from the left boards and dumped the puck off Grahame's glove into the net. It was the NHL-leading 67th power-play goal for the Flyers. Langkow then shook off Boston's Mikko Eloranta to put the puck between Grahame's pads at 1:12 of the period.

Tocchet beat backup goalie Robbie Tallas with a slapshot from high in the slot with 19 seconds left in the game.

Primeau, centering Philadelphia's top line in place of the injured Eric Lindros, put the Flyers ahead 1-0 at 2:46 of the first period. With Boston's Darren Van Impe draped all over him to the right of the crease, Primeau took a centering pass from Jones and poked the puck off Grahame's skate into the net.

Smith pulled the Bruins even with his second goal of the season at 6:48 of the first period, scoring from just outside the blue-line with a slapshot that flew high to the glove side over goalie Brian Boucher, who appeared to be screened on the play.

Boston went ahead 2-1 at 8:09 of the second period, when Savage tapped in the rebound of his own shot, but Jones scored from the slot for the Flyers 1:28 later. Then, 31 seconds later, Gagne put Philadelphia ahead for good with his third goal and fifth point in his last two games.

Philadelphia Inquirer (By Tim Pannacio) -- March 19, 2000

"...That also was too bad for the Flyers because Simon Gagne played well. The rookie scored two goals, giving him 17 for the season.

Gagne benefited from playing on Peter White's line, along with Mark Recchi. The three players created decent scoring chances while also displaying energy. It took until the third period for the rest of the Flyers to join them.

"We slowed down in the second period, but in the third period, we worked hard," Gagne said.

Goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, who had looked sharp in his previous two outings, wasn't stellar, but one of the Rangers' goals went off White's stick. Vanbiesbrouck finished with 18 saves.

Although the Flyers dominated the final period, the Rangers' defense held up in the beginning of the period, and goalie Kirk McLean handled things at the end, when the Flyers were buzzing the net and missing rebounds in the slot. McLean had 26 saves.

"They did a pretty good job checking us," Ramsay said. "We felt that, in some ways, they got us out of our game, because we couldn't work our low plays. Of course, we feel that they were grabbing on and holding, but for whatever reason, they didn't allow us to really work the puck down low as much as we would like."

The game began on a positive note for the Flyers when Gagne notched two goals in the first eight minutes.

White's line had just come onto the ice when the veteran center went into the right boards to dig the puck out for Recchi, who skated around the defense and started to go behind the net to the other side. But he stopped and threw the puck out to Gagne, who put it past McLean at 1 minute, 1 second, giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead.

Four minutes later, John MacLean skated into the neutral zone, then passed the puck to Valeri Kamensky, who seemed undecided on what to do with it. Kamensky even hesitated on his shot from the left circle and finally put a soft one on net that was redirected and rose on Vanbiesbrouck, beating him over the left shoulder.

"If it doesn't hit my stick, Beezer has it," White said.

Vanbiesbrouck said that on such shots, the puck usually heads low, which is where he was prepared to play it.

"It tipped ever so slowly off Peter's stick and went upstairs," Vanbiesbrouck said.

Gagne broke the 1-1 tie at 8:14.

"The chances were there," said Gagne, who twice more took Recchi passes in the slot, but was robbed by McLean. "My two goals were two great plays by Recchi. I just go down the slot and the pass was there."..."

Philadelphia Inquirer (By Tim Pannacio) -- March 5, 2000

"If ever there were a play that proved that Simon Gagne is going to be an impact player in the league for years to come, it was the rookie's 14th goal of the season. It came at 14 minutes, 42 seconds of the opening period and gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead.

Mark Recchi led a rush up the ice on the left side, with Primeau and Gagne breaking wide to Recchi's right as they entered the Bruins' zone. Gagne took Recchi's pass and tried to slip a return pass to Primeau down the middle. Bruins goaltender Robbie Tallas rushed the slot to make a sliding save on the pass, but the puck came back to Gagne.

Despite being spun around by Mikko Eloranta, Gagne managed to regain control of the puck with a bent knee long enough to slide the puck on his backhand into the far side of the open net, with Tallas still stuck in the slot.

Everything before and after the goal was pretty much monotonous, so much so that the scoreboard blew out after the goal and had to be rebooted for the second period...."