Originally published May 5, 2012 at Inside Hockey.
The Flyers never saw it coming.
After their miraculous series win over the Stanley Cup favorite Pittsburgh Penguins, they thought that they’d breeze on through to the Finals. They never expected the New Jersey Devils would be so hard to beat.
Perhaps it was their week off that left them disadvantaged and unprepared, while the Devils headed to the rink in Philadelphia fresh off their Game 7 win in Florida.
They thought they had them beat following their 4-3 OT win in Game one of the series, but the Devils made them work hard for that win. It wasn’t so easy scoring 10 goals in one game like it was in the first round.
The number one difference in the Flyers’ first series and their second series? They’ve gone away from playing their game. They are now playing Devils’ hockey.
It is in making the other team play their game, that the Devils have an advantage over other teams. In fact, that’s the kind of game the Devils want in every match. They want the other team to try and beat them at their own game without dropping the gloves. They want a solid round of pure hockey.
They didn’t have to rely on superstars to win the first game in the series.
Ilya Kovalchuk had been injured since the first round, but kept on playing through. The pressure was on him to lead the club, but with an ailing lower-back, sometimes just sitting out a game was all he needed to come back with a vengeance.
The Devils won game two without their ailing superstar to tie up the series 1-1. At least three Devils players scored their first goal of the playoffs in the 4-1 win over the Flyers. Rookie defenseman Adam Larsson scored his first career playoff goal and David Clarkson and Bryce Salvador both scored their first goal of the playoffs.
Travis Zajac rounded out the scoring as well in that win. He has been the biggest difference on the stat sheet this post-season. Zajac has come up big in the playoffs, leading the Devils with five goals. That’s an amazing thing to see considering he sat out half of the season after suffering an Achilles tendon injury on August 17th during an off-ice workout. He had surgery the next day and did not return until late December before missing another 37 games (Jan. 4 – Mar. 23) with soreness.
For Zajac to have such incredible success so far this post-season, it’s like he was never gone at all. His huge impact for the club is not only good for him, but it’s an inspiration for the rest of his teammates.
In Game three, with Kovalchuk returning to the ice after three days of rest, the Russian superstar scored his fourth goal of the playoffs just 20 seconds after Patrik Elias’ power play goal at 12:33 in the first period. This was the Kovalchuk the Devils had been waiting for.
One of the key aspects of the Flyers’ winning philosophy has been their success on the power play. Their special teams have been phenomenal, especially with Danny Briere on the power play unit. Briere leads the league with eight goals in the playoffs. Claude Giroux follows with seven goals.
The Flyers inability to capitalize on two power play opportunities in overtime cost them the game.
“The power play cost us the game tonight,” Briere told Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I was trying to protect it the first two games, saying it was a matter of time, but the all-around effort on the power play is just not good enough…. Their PK is outworking us by a mile.”
In the first round against the Florida Panthers, the Devils struggled a bit with their penalty kill unit. From being the number one PK unit in the league to all of a sudden losing their grip in the first round, it left many asking what had happened. Now, it would appear the PK unit is finally back to its true form if they are finally able to shut down the most important element of the Flyers’ game.
Like all playoff games so far, there’s always a heightened risk of injury that leaves a player back on the sidelines. Sean Couturier was injured in the first period after getting tangled up with David Clarkson along the boards. The Flyers reported that he suffered a lower body injury.
The Devils 4-3 win in overtime allowed for a few headlines. With Brayden Schenn scoring early in the game at 6:08 on the power play, things didn’t look so great for the Devils… until the Devils got a power play of their own and Elias got the Devils on the scoreboard at 12:33. Kovalchuk followed at 12:53 in his first game back.
Matt Carle evened the game up again at 4:44 in the second period, only to have Zach Parise jam one in past Ilya Bryzgalov at 7:29 in the third period to give the Devils a 3-2 lead. That lead was short-lived when Briere was able to get a shot in at 11:04 to force the game into overtime.
One strange thing about the officiating in this game: Kovalchuk was called for delay of game at 16:28 in the second period. With Kovalchuk in the box, he watched the replay up on the screen, knowing he hadn’t even touch the puck. When the replay confirmed the puck had bounced off of Matt Read and he had never touched the puck, he erupted like a madman inside the penalty box.
James van Riemsdyk put up a goal during the power play, but it was immediately waved off for another phantom call. This time the phantom call was on Schenn for goaltender interference.
The unsung hero to score the gamewinner was Alexei Ponikarovsky. With an incredible pass from Kovalchuk, Ponikarovsky was able to tally the overtime win to give the Devils a 4-3 win and a 2-1 lead in the series.
Elias, Kovalchuk and Ponikarovsky all came out with a two-point night with a goal and an assist each. Marek Zidlicky has also been doing well with Elias. His two points both came assisting Elias.
The Devils will host the Flyers again on Sunday at Prudential Center. Game time is at 7:30PM.
Random Acts of Kindness
If you follow me on Twitter (@MichelleKenneth), you may have noticed a challenge I’ve put forth for New Jersey Devils fans. With all of the problems the Devils have faced with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, I’ve decided to challenge fans to help the Devils out by doing random acts of kindness for the City of Newark.
Since I’ve initiated this challenge of helping the City of Newark and the New Jersey Devils, thus creating good karma for the Devils during this playoff run, I’ve seen tweets from all across America of Devils fans paying it forward and doing random acts of kindness.
From fans buying breakfasts for others in Orlando, Florida, to scratch off tickets given to Newark residents working at Prudential Center…fans have jumped on board with this challenge.
Just last night, I saw a group of young Devils fans giving out little paper bags filled with treats to the homeless at Newark Penn Station. The way their faces just lit up…they looked like five year olds opening up their presents on Christmas Day.
These are not the people that panhandle and try to make a buck off of the fans. These are the true destitute people of Newark that live inside the train station and out on the streets. That is their home. In the years that the Devils have been in Prudential Center, I have never encountered a single homeless person asking for help from fans. They usually just kept to themselves.
There was even one woman that fell asleep on the bench across from me while I waited for my train. In her garbage bag, she had professional suits, work clothes and shoes. She was working, but she was also homeless.
These are the people that for some reason or another have found themselves living in or around downtown Newark. Sometimes all anyone needs is to be recognized by a complete stranger. They just need someone to see that they do exist.
Fans that have started to embrace this new concept have tweeted about their random acts of kindness. One person donated a pair of shoes to a man that was walking around barefoot. She knew her size 7 Pumas wouldn’t fit him, but at least it was something for right now.
Other fans hearing of these random acts of kindness are also jumping on board. One fan tweeted that he planned on bringing 100 cupcakes with him to the Newark Penn Station area to share with the homeless in celebration of Martin Brodeur’s 40th birthday.
Jeff Vanderbeek can’t save Newark all on his own like Mayor Booker demands of him. That’s why I’ve enlisted Devils fans to help their team accomplish that goal. By helping the city of Newark, they are also helping their team. For fans across America that are committing to this challenge, they’re also doing great things in the team’s name, as well as in their own communities.
And maybe… just maybe… the fans will help the Devils generate that little bit of magic from all of that good karma they’re generating to help their team win the Stanley Cup this year.