NEWARK, N.J. – After Philadelphia rolled over Pittsburgh in the opening round of the playoffs, there was a perception that the Flyers would be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
Deep. Driven. Determined. You name it.
Getting by New Jersey in the second round seemingly was a given, especially after the No. 6 seed Devils needed seven games—and two overtimes in the last contest—to knock off Florida of all teams.
Well, it’s time to revise that perception. Because, with Game 3 on tap Thursday at the Prudential Center, this series is tied, 1-1.
The Devils not only showed they could play with the No. 5 Flyers in splitting the first two games in Philadelphia; they could easily be leading 2-0 in the best-of-7 series. They lost Game 1 in overtime, 4-3, and dominated Game 2, 4-1, on Tuesday despite playing without leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk.
“I think there is a pressure with being a favourite in a series,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said Wednesday. “We felt that in the Florida series, and I don’t think there is any doubt that it is on Philadelphia. That is something that isn’t easy to deal with, when you are supposed to win and, not only win, but win convincingly.
“We like the spot we are in and we are just going to keep working.”
The Devils clearly outworked the Flyers in posting a 4-1 win in Game 2. They outshot Philadelphia 35-20 and only outstanding goaltending by Ilya Bryzgalov allowed the home team to hold a 1-0 lead after two periods.
But New Jersey blew the game open with four consecutive goals in the third. In doing so, the Devils took home-ice advantage—and confidence—back to New Jersey.
A veteran of three Stanley Cup championship teams, Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said not to make too much of the changing perceptions. That’s playoff hockey, after all. And it’s best to ignore it.
“You can’t get overwhelmed by one win,” the 39-year-old Brodeur said after the Devils held a team meeting. “People always look at that. That’s (why) the mood swings are important. You have to be levelled off about them. You feel so good about yourself that sometimes you slack off a bit. We can’t get caught up. We played well, but we expect the Flyers to come a lot harder tomorrow and do what they do.”
Philadelphia has to pick up its skating and work on its power play, which failed to produce in five attempts in Game 2 and is 1-for-11 in the series. Flyers centre Danny Briere said the Devils also were the more inspired team playing without Kovalchuk.
“It is all about the will and desperation,” Briere said. “We have to get that back. So far in this series, we have only had it for about three periods. There is no sense in me telling you how good we are. You guys have seen us all year. You know if we are good or not. One thing I can tell you is that we need to have more desperation if we want to get back to winning games.”
The Devils, who did not skate on Wednesday, received some good news on the Kovalchuk front. The Russian forward told trainers he was feeling a lot better after staying home for Game 2 to receive treatment. DeBoer said that the right wing remains day-to-day, but it seems likely the team will give him another day off.
If that happens, Kovalchuk will have had a week to rest before Game 4 Sunday night in Newark. The team has referred to his ailment as a “lower body injury,” but he wore a pad on his back after Game 1, and walked gingerly around the locker room on Monday after practice.
Kovalchuk had 37 goals and 83 points in the regular season, and has three and six this post-season. In Game 1 vs. the Flyers, though, he was clearly off his game and had limited movement. He finished with no shots, and was a minus-2.
“Kovy is a big piece of the puzzle,” said Devils centre Travis Zajac, who scored his fifth goal of the playoffs in Game 2. “He can score at any time. When you don’t have that, you have to play a mistake-free game.”
For the Devils, that means using an aggressive forecheck. That worked in Game 2, as they forced turnovers and had six players with at least three shots on net.
“They are not going to come here with the same effort they (had in Game 2),” Zajac said. “We expect that. And for us, our game has to get better every night the series goes on for us to win.”
DeBoer said defenceman Adam Larsson, 19, probably will be back in the lineup for Game 3. The rookie, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft, started the four-goal third period with his first post-season tally, a wristshot at 3:08.
The Flyers know all they need is a split in New Jersey to regain home-ice advantage, and push the drama of this regional rivalry even further.
“You can’t look too much ahead and think about what’s going to happen if we lose that next game. You can’t do that in the playoffs,” defenceman Kimmo Timonen said. “This was one of those days you watch tape and you learn from it.
“And make sure everybody is ready on Thursday (to) win the game.”