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May 2, 2004 - Flyers hammer Leafs; take series lead

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Flyers hammer Leafs; take series lead

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Keith Primeau backed up his challenge and prediction.

Primeau had three goals and Michal Handzus scored twice, leading the Philadelphia Flyers to a 7-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Philadelphia can eliminate the Leafs with a victory in Toronto on Tuesday night. If necessary, Game 7 would be Thursday. The home team has won each game in the series.

Primeau, the Flyers' captain, addressed his teammates in a closed-door meeting Saturday. He responded with the best playoff performance of his 14-year career.

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"He told us he would be great today and to jump on for the ride," Flyers goaltender Sean Burke said.

Primeau shared the credit.

"I'm getting lucky right now," Primeau said. "I had to lead with emotion and energy. There was no extra pressure. We have a lot of guys capable of leading."

The victory was costly for the Flyers, who lost goalie Robert Esche and defenceman Vladimir Malakhov to undisclosed injuries. Burke replaced Esche after the first period and stopped eight of nine shots.

"Both guys have upper-body injuries. We'll give you the truth tomorrow," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said.

After being outplayed in two straight losses in Toronto, the Flyers dominated the game from the start, taking a 2-0 lead in the first six minutes and holding the Leafs without a shot until the final minute of the first period.

Mark Recchi and Branko Radivojevic also scored for the Flyers, who have never lost a best-of-seven series in which they led 2-0, going 16-0.

Leafs goalie Ed Belfour allowed six goals on 18 shots, before being replaced by Trevor Kidd less than four minutes into the second period.

Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts scored for Toronto.

"We made a lot of mistakes and the whole team didn't perform up to the level they can," Leafs captain Mats Sundin said.

Energized by a noisy sellout crowd of 19,825, the Flyers played with more intensity and determination than they showed in the two losses at the Air Canada Centre. They outshot Toronto 29-11.

Recchi picked up a loose puck after a turnover by Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe, skated in and beat Belfour with a wrist shot for a 1-0 lead 3:51 in.

Handzus made it 2-0 just 1:52 later with his first goal of the playoffs. Handzus took a drop pass from Simon Gagne and shot it through a screen past Belfour.

Primeau's first goal came on a short-handed breakaway with 1:06 left in the first period. Primeau beat McCabe to a loose puck, skated in on Belfour, made a nifty move to go around defenceman Brian Leetch and one-handed a shot into the net.

His second goal came on another breakaway 44 seconds into the second period. Primeau broke in with Gagne, who made a nice centring pass to set up the easy goal.

Primeau made it 7-2 early in the third period with his fifth goal of the playoffs. He entered the game with just 11 playoff goals in 119 games.

"He's like a lot of captains," Hitchcock said. "He's really focused."

Nieuwendyk, back in the lineup after sitting out the last three games with back spasms, scored Toronto's first goal on a rebound with 35 seconds left in the first period.

The Flyers beat Belfour and the Leafs 6-1 in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series last spring. Philadelphia hadn't scored seven goals in the playoffs since a 7-3 victory over Tampa Bay on April 16, 1996.

"We have to make sure we come back and play much better right from the start," Belfour said. "Going home is definitely going to help us."

Notes: The Flyers have scored first in nine of their 10 playoff games. ... Eagles QB Donovan McNabb attended the game, wearing a No. 5 Flyers jersey. ... Handzus had 20 goals in the regular season, but didn't score in Philadelphia's first nine playoff games. John LeClair, a former 50-goal scorer who had 23 goals in the regular season, still hasn't scored. ... McCabe was a minus-5. ... The Flyers are 6-0 at home this post-season. ... Toronto's shots were the fewest by any Flyers opponent in the playoffs. The previous low was 12 by the New York Rangers in a 2-1 victory for Philadelphia on April 10, 1986.