PHILADELPHIA – Whatever was said in the Philadelphia Flyers’ dressing room before the struggling team took on the New Jersey Devils paid immediate dividends.
Matt Carle, Ville Leino, Kimmo Timonen, Lukas Krajicek and Simon Gagne scored for the Flyers, who beat New Jersey 5-1 on Sunday night. It was the fifth time in six meetings that Philadelphia knocked off the Devils.
This one couldn’t have come at a better time.
In a pre-game meeting, Flyers captain Mike Richards stressed the importance of focusing just on the task at hand instead of dwelling on the remaining games on the schedule.
The Flyers had dropped five straight and seven of eight, putting their seemingly secure playoff chances in jeopardy. Their sputtering offence scored more than three goals for the first time in 15 games.
“I think it was the leaders getting together, stepping up and saying that I think everyone was focusing on the big picture,” Richards said. “Prongs (Chris Pronger), Kimmo (Timonen) and (Simon) Gagne, we all thought that and wanted to settle everything down. You kind of get lost in the mix sometimes, and you need to focus on game by game.”
Philadelphia, which beat the Devils for the fifth time in six meetings this season. Ilya Kovalchuk scored the lone goal for New Jersey, which dropped two points behind Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division.
Brian Boucher stopped 32 shots for the win.
“We needed a tough game,” Leino said. “Our life is on the line now and we need points.”
Philadelphia jumped from eighth place in the Eastern Conference to sixth, ahead of Montreal and Boston. The Flyers lead ninth-place Atlanta by four points with six games left. The 10th-place New York Rangers, also in striking distance, will play the Flyers in the final two games of the season.
The Devils clinched a playoff berth for the 13th straight season with a win at Montreal on Saturday.
Carle scored 53 seconds in with a slapshot past Martin Brodeur’s glove side, his first goal in 15 games. Leino made it 2-0 at 8:18 by poking a rebound through Brodeur’s legs.
Timonen broke a 30-game scoring drought 45 seconds into the second period, banging a shot from just above the right circle off the left post and in. That snapped Philadelphia’s 0 for 20 slump on the power play.
New Jersey outshot Philadelphia 33-25, but Brodeur, the NHL career wins leader allowed five goals for the fifth time this season – twice to Philadelphia.
“You have to give them credit, they played extremely well,” Brodeur said. “They jumped out of the gate real strong. It was a bit overwhelming, perhaps. We’re facing a team gunning for you and they have no choice. They are playing for their playoff lives.”
Boucher was 1-5 in six starts since replacing Michael Leighton as the No. 1 goalie. He was benched Saturday for rookie Johan Backlund in Pittsburgh. Backlund had stopped 22-of-24 shots through two periods before being forced out by a groin injury.
“It just feels nice to get a win,” Boucher said. “Things have been kind of going sideways a bit. (Getting the lead) was a big help. We were emphatic about our start, and we kept the foot on the pedal. We were able to capitalize on some chances, which hasn’t really happened for us lately. It’s nice to see some goals go in.”
The Flyers goalie had let an early 2-0 lead slip away on March 25 to Minnesota. They didn’t let that happen against the high-scoring Devils. Philadelphia blocked several shots before they could get in on Boucher.
“That’s what it’s going to take for us to win, sacrifice,” said defenceman Chris Pronger, who left briefly in the second period when he was hit in the shoulder with a puck. “Whether it’s taking a punch to draw a penalty or taking a hit to make a play, blocking a shot to stop a scoring chance.
“The good teams around the league find a way to get in front of things. We did a lot better job.”
Boucher lost his shutout bid when Kovalchuk scored with 9:40 left.
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” he said, laughing. “I’ll take the victory.”
So will the Flyers, who have six games remaining. Cliche or not, they plan to take them one at a time.
“That was the message delivered by Mike,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “It was a good message. We had to focus on just this game, and it was the perfect thing. We can’t worry about four points or four wins, or 10 points. Just this game, and now the next game.”
NOTES: Devils LW Zach Parise played in his 400th NHL game. … Philadelphia has won seven of nine at home. … The Flyers beat the Devils five times for the first time since the 1988-89 season. … Kovalchuk has three goals and three assists in three games.