The last team to get an NHL playoff berth pulled off yet another surprise.
Brian Boucher had 23 saves in his first playoff start in eight years and the Philadelphia Flyers – who clawed their way into the playoffs with a shootout win on the last day of the regular season – beat the New Jersey Devils 2-1 in Game 1 of their first-round Eastern Conference series Wednesday night.
“We’re still the underdogs,” Flyers forward Ian Laperriere said. “We had expectations on us at the start of the season and didn’t play the way we wanted to play. Hopefuly, we’ll surprise a lot of people. We believe in our group and in our goalie and we’ll see what the future holds for us.”
Chris Pronger and Mike Richards scored second-period goals for Philadelphia.
Taking the first game in the best-of-seven series has to bode well for them heading into Friday’s game at the Prudential Center. At the least, the Flyers have taken away the home-ice advantage that the Devils earned by winning the Atlantic Division and the conference’s No. 2 seed.
This win also has to boost the Flyers’ confidence even higher against a team that they beat five times in six games in the regular season.
“We feel the pressure is on them,” Philadelphia centre Blair Betts said. “We’re obviously going to put pressure on ourselves. We know when we are playing our best we can compete with any team in this league.”
The loss has to be a major concern for the Devils, who have been knocked out of the playoffs in the opening round the last two seasons.
“I’m looking at the playoffs right now, and we lost the first one,” Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. “We’ve just got to find a way to win.”
New Jersey gave its unhappy fans some hope when Travis Zajac scored on a somewhat flubbed slap shot that seemed to bounce in front of Boucher with 2:43 to play.
Boucher, however, stopped Patrik Elias in close with about 10 seconds to go and the Flyers cleared the puck out of the zone on the ensuing faceoff.
“We said we wanted Game 1, and we got it,” said Boucher, whose got the Flyers into the post-season by outduelling Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers in the shootout Sunday. “So now we have a day of rest and regroup and look forward to Game 2.”
The Devils’ performance was so inept that their fans were booing at the end of the second period and near the end of a four-minute power play early in the third period, an advantage that resulted in two shots.
Boucher, who inherited the Flyers’ starting job because of injuries to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton, wasn’t overly tested. His best period was the first, when he stopped nine shots. The best of that bunch was a snapping glove save on a 25-footer by Ilya Kovalchuk and stops in close on Zach Parise and Zajac.
But Boucher’s play was similar to his rookie season in 2000 when he was in net for the Flyers-Devils conference final series. New Jersey won in seven games.
Other than that, Boucher’s only other playoff start was in 2002 for Philadelphia.
Pronger provided the go-ahead goal at 9:25 of the second period, scoring in front on a power play. Richards fired a bad angle shot at Martin Brodeur. Simon Gagne nudged the rebound in the crease and Pronger, who was acquired in a major trade with Anaheim last June, backhanded a shot off the skate of Devils forward Brian Rolston into the net.
Richards doubled the lead a little more than seven minutes later with a 35-foot shot that beat Brodeur low to the glove side. Ian Laperriere set up the goal, taking the puck from Devils defenceman Martin Skoula near the blue line and finding Richards alone between the circles with a behind the back pass.
“If I had missed that pass I don’t think you would have seen me on the ice again,” Laperriere said.
The Flyers iced the game killing off a double minor to defenceman Oskars Bartulis and another minor to Braydon Coburn. New Jersey was 0-for-5 on the power play.
“I thought we played decent,” said Brodeur, who faced only 14 shots, including two in the third period. “Defensively, we did a great job. We didn’t allow much. Offensively, the power play was the story of the game. We just couldn’t get going. We couldn’t get any momentum off it. We didn’t do well.”
NOTES: LW Jay Pandolfo was a healthy scratch, snapping a streak of 123 consecutive playoff game appearances with the Devils. … Boucher last appeared in a playoff game in 2008, when he mopped up for 2 minutes for the San Jose Sharks. … Pronger and Richards teamed with Brodeur on Canada’s gold-medal winning team. … The crowd of 17,625 was a sellout and most of the fans were wearing Devils red. … The victory marked the first time the Flyers have won a Game 1 in a series since 2004 against Tampa Bay. They had lost six straight opening games and eight of 10.