PHILADELPHIA – Buried in the standings for much of the season, even minor celebrations have been rare for New Jersey.
The Devils had two reasons to feel good Saturday: They beat the best team in the NHL and have won three straight games for the first time this season.
Patrik Elias scored two goals and Henrik Tallinder scored one to lead the improved New Jersey Devils to a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
“When you start to work, you get a better team,” Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. “I feel now the guys are working as a team.”
Johan Hedberg stopped 26 shots to give the Devils points in a season-high six straight games (5-0-1). Hedberg helped give the Devils a victory in a game between teams that entered the contest with the highest and lowest point totals in the NHL.
The Devils are still in last place in the Eastern Conference, but have been showing signs of life since Lemaire took over for John MacLean on Dec. 23.
“We’ve managed to turn this poor start of ours around,” Tallinder said. “He changed everything when he came here.”
James van Riemsdyk scored the lone goal for the Flyers, who failed in their initial attempt to become the first expansion-era team to hit 1,000 home victories.
The Flyers are off to Chicago for Sunday’s rematch of the Stanley Cup finals. The Blackhawks won in six games.
“When we get to the rink, it’s probably going to get emotional,” Flyers all-star forward Danny Briere said.
The Flyers, leading the East with 67 points, can’t wait for the rematch.
They also want to forget this surprising loss.
Hedberg won a game after Martin Brodeur shut out the Penguins, keeping New Jersey’s remote playoffs hopes alive.
The Flyers showed no sign of the potent offence that made them the only team with four players with 40-plus points. Brian Boucher was solid in the net with 19 saves, but it wasn’t enough and the Flyers lost a four-game winning streak.
Hedberg preserved the win with a sensational, sprawling and sliding save to his left that denied Jeff Carter the tying goal with 2:40 left. Carter simply shook his head in disbelief as he watched the replay on the overhead scoreboard.
“It was a good save, I think,” Hedberg said. “I knew he was coming there.”
Hedberg, originally drafted by the Flyers in 1994, won for the first time since Dec. 31.
Tallinder and Elias staked him to a 2-0 lead in the first period that turned out to be all the offence the Devils needed.
Tallinder struck first with an unassisted slapper through traffic for his second goal of the season. Elias followed with his 11th goal of the season for a 2-0 lead.
Elias got a two-goal game when he poked in the empty-netter on the power play with 41.4 seconds left.
“It’s encouraging out there,” Elias said. “We’re trying to keep each other up, trying to make each other better, keep making plays. I think that’s been the biggest difference.”
The Devils finished the game without defenceman Colin White after he was knocked out with a lower-body injury.
Not even the fast start could satisfy Flyers fans—the team was booed off the ice at the end of the first period.
“We knew that was a bit of a motivator and we came out better in the second period,” Boucher said.
The Flyers made it 2-1 with 20 seconds left in the second period when van Riemsdyk redirected Claude Giroux’s pass past Hedberg for his 12th goal of the season. Giroux, who was selected to the all-star team, got his 24th assist.
Hedberg made up for a soft performance in Philadelphia two weeks ago when he allowed two quick goals and was yanked for Brodeur in a 2-1 loss. That game was two days after the Flyers won 4-2 in New Jersey.
“Even the two games we played about two weeks ago against them, we could sense that things were starting to change for them,” Briere said. “They were playing a lot harder, a lot better.”
Notes: Hedberg never played a game for the Flyers. … This was thefifth of six games between the teams this season. They don’t meet again until April 1. … The Wells Fargo Center crew immediately got to work putting away the ice and pulling out the hardwood for Saturday night’s Philadelphia 76ers game.