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April 19, 2001 - Primeau means No. 1 for Flyers

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Primeau means No. 1 for Flyers
One brief moment of hockey illustrated the Philadelphia Flyers' identity – and why Keith Primeau is the one who provides it.

Primeau makes Recchi, right, more dangerous because he opens space for the speedy winger.

During Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals vs. Buffalo, Primeau drove to the net at 7:20 of the third period with the Flyers leading 3-1. With James Patrick clawing all over him, Primeau crashed into the net and took out Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek. The Dominator, so incensed by the play because he thought Primeau was going after his knees, slammed his blocker to the ice. The tantrum earned Hasek a 10-minute misconduct.

It doesn't entirely sum up why Primeau is at the core of the Flyers' chemistry, but toss in that while playing with a bum knee, the 6-foot-4 center netted two assists, took the key faceoffs, got in everyone's face – and also managed to derail a Hall of Fame goalie – in a 3-1 win over the Sabres on Thursday.

Now, that's an identity – one that the Flyers haven't had in the postseason since Eric Lindros led Philly's run to the finals in 1997.

"I don't know what happened. He just came unglued," said Primeau of the play. "We went to the net, but no more or less than in the past. Part of my game is to create chances through my physical play."

Since Primeau returned from a knee injury in Game 3, the Flyers have won two games and lost one in overtime. They are a completely different team with him in the lineup, mainly because Primeau completes one of the league's elite lines, along with Simon Gagne and Mark Recchi.

During the regular season, the trio combined for 88 goals, 121 assists and 209 points in 82 games.

But in the first two games of the series – both Philly losses – Recchi's one goal was the only point between the two speedy wings, a far cry from a point-a-game average.

With Primeau back between them, Recchi has a goal and two assists in three games, while Gagne has scored in all three games. Primeau has three assists.

"Having him back helps my confidence, for sure," said Gagne, 21, who no longer has to answer questions that his surgically repaired shoulder was the reason for his drought.

"When he plays big, like a bull, people follow him," said defenseman Dan McGillis. "And he makes lanes for others, giving space for Gags (Gagne) and Recchs (Recchi). He takes lots of key faceoffs, and he's got a little mean streak in him."

In addition, he gives Philly some depth at center, a position where the Flyers lack depth. No offense to Derek Plante, but a team counting on him as the No. 2 center shouldn't make reservations for a future White House visit.

Primeau centering the top line allows Daymond Langkow to move up to help John LeClair and Rick Tocchet and give the Flyers a legitimate scoring threat on the second line.

"Having him back does a lot of things for our club; we have two solid scoring lines," Gagne said.

Primeau's presence – both physically and offensively – as well as the home-ice edge of controlling line changes during stoppages in play, made Game 5 entirely different for Buffalo.

"He controls a lot of the play," Sabres forward Chris Gratton said. "If you pay (too much) attention to him, it leaves someone else open, and he's doing a great job of finding the open man."

Gratton is one of the few Sabres forwards big enough to get in Primeau's face, but it has been 6-foot Curtis Brown who has been faced with the task of containing Primeau.

"He's so strong out front, and we have to box him out and get position on him," Brown said.

Throw all of Primeau's size, ability and aggressiveness into the pot with one major intangible: All his teammates know he's playing hurt and he returned early from injury because his team needed help, down 2-0 and heading to Buffalo.

"We missed him dearly," Recchi admitted. "Even though he's definitely not 100 percent, his courage being out there is very important for our hockey club."

If the word important means the difference between losing in the first round and possibly extending the hockey season, Recchi is right on the money.