NEWARK, N.J. – After only four games, Martin Brodeur shaved his playoff beard in an attempt to change the luck of the suddenly desperate New Jersey Devils.
About 144 kilometres down the turnpike, the fortunes of the star goalie and the rest of his teammates took a more tangible turn for the better on Wednesday when the Philadelphia Flyers announced that top forwards Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne would both miss Game 5 due to right foot injuries.
Both players were hurt when struck by shots on Tuesday night during the Flyers’ 4-1 victory. Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren said the players would have surgery on Friday. Gagne’s recovery time is expected to be about three weeks. Carter, who recently returned from a broken left foot, will be on crutches for six weeks and is likely to be out for the playoffs.
Whether that will be enough to help New Jersey remains to be seen.
The Devils trail the first-round, Eastern Conference series 3-1 and need to win Thursday at home to extend the season. If they do, they will face elimination again Sunday in Philadelphia and will try to force the series back to New Jersey for Game 7.
If not, the No. 2-seeded Devils will have to deal with the reality that despite great regular-season success, they will have been ousted in the first round for the third straight year.
“We definitely are in a tough spot and we have to react accordingly,” Brodeur said after practice. “It’s doable. You want to force them to try to close it out in their building. It’s tough to do. You start taking a game here and a game there, it gets a little tighter.”
The Devils’ dressing room still had a pall over it as it did Tuesday in Philadelphia when the Flyers rallied from a 1-0 deficit to win to seize control of the series. New Jersey scored only three goals in the two road losses?none at even strength.
As big a concern for New Jersey is the fact that it has dropped eight of 10 games to the division-rival Flyers. The Devils will need to beat them three straight times to advance to the second round. The Atlantic Division-champion Devils haven’t won three consecutive games against anyone since a five-game run in December.
Whether it was lip service or true belief, the Devils said the right things as they face a premature end to a season that produced 48 wins and 103 points.
“We worked all year to get home ice. We have the next one at home. That’s all we can concern ourselves with,” Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. “We go and find a way to win Game 5, and then that puts the pressure back on them. We’ve just got to find a way to put a good game together, get some confidence and get some momentum going back in our direction.”
Philadelphia took the opener in New Jersey before dropping Game 2 on the road. At home, the Flyers erased another early 1-0 deficit and pulled out an overtime win on Daniel Carcillo’s overtime goal. Carcillo scored again on Tuesday, and Carter added his first two of the series.
But now the Flyers face the prospect of trying to finish off the Devils without Carter, their regular-season leader with 33 goals, and Gagne?who had 17.
“It’s tough,” Carter said. “It seems like I just got off (crutches for the other foot). It’s definitely disappointing. I really felt like I was getting back into my groove and get some jump in my game.”
Philadelphia will likely replace the injured forwards with Ville Leino, acquired from Detroit this season, and either David Laliberte, Andreas Nodl or Jon Kalinski?all recently recalled from Adirondack of the AHL.
“Everybody deals with that in the playoffs,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “You wish you had a healthy lineup and you certainly wish they were in there. They are not and you have to make adjustments.”
Devils coach Jacques Lemaire declined to say if the absence of Carter and Gagne would change his tactical plans, largely because he wasn’t convinced they would truly be out of the lineup Thursday.
“We have to just focus on ourselves,” Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re going to play against, who is going to play who. You just have to be better than the other guy in front of you. Everybody has to take that challenge. We can’t lose anymore.”
This is exactly the situation the Devils faced 10 years ago in the Eastern Conference finals against Philadelphia and then rookie goalie Brian Boucher, who again is the Flyers goalie this series.
Brodeur and the Devils erased that 3-1 deficit en route to winning the Stanley Cup. That was the only New Jersey team to accomplish the feat. It has been done 20 times on 229 occasions, including twice by Minnesota Wild teams coached by Lemaire in 2003.
“When you get to this situation again, it brings back memories,” said forward Patrik Elias, one of four Devils holdovers from the 2000 team. “You have to take it just a shift at a time. You cannot look at it as a whole game, two games, three games that you have to win. You have to believe in yourself and your teammates that you will get it done.”
The Flyers, 17-2 in series they led 3-1, will try to finish off another win despite the sudden rash of injuries.
“It’s an unexpected, disappointing, bad luck sort of thing,” captain Mike Richards said. “We can’t do anything about it. We have to move on. We were playing well, so hopefully we can continue the momentum.”