The New Jersey Devils injected a dose of reality into the plans of the Philadelphia Flyers, using a three-goal third period to claim a 4-1 decision in the opener of a home-and-home series Sunday night from Prudential Center.
Ilya Kovalchuk did his usual damage, tallying a goal and two assists. Zach Parise and Patrik Elias picked up a goal and helper apiece, while Martin Brodeur worked his magic by stopping 18-of-19 shots. It was the 650th career victory for the 39-year-old Montreal native.
“We want to get into the playoffs and do well once we’re there,” Kovalchuk said of his team, which pulled into a tie with the Flyers for fifth place in the Eastern Conference at 85 points. “It’s our primary job to score goals and tonight we were right there when we needed it.”
Claude Giroux provided the only offense for the Flyers, who continued to struggle in all areas despite coming off a 1-0 shootout victory in Toronto on Saturday.
After 11 straight starts, Ilya Bryzgalov was rested in favor of Sergei Bobrovsky, who hadn’t started since February 12 at Detroit and hadn’t seen any action since February 18 against Pittsburgh. He allowed all four goals on 31 shots and hasn’t won since a February 9 start against Toronto.
Following a scoreless second period, the Flyers knotted the game at 16 seconds of the third.
Giroux and Jaromir Jagr worked a crossing pattern into the Devils zone, with the former passing to the latter for a rush along the left-wing boards. Jagr was almost directly behind Brodeur before he hit Giroux with a centering feed which was flipped into the net.
All that good feeling was short lived, as the hosts moved ahead at 2:45. Parise headmanned to Kovalchuk up the left-wing side thanks to a fortunate bounce off the boards, and he carried into the circle before dishing across for a one-timer by Anton Volchenkov.
Kovalchuk then hit the back of the net on a laser from the slot into the top corner for a 3-1 Devils edge at 8:08.
Parise essentially put the game out of reach during a double-minor for high sticking by Zac Rinaldo, beating Bobrovsky on the backhand from the right side after a failed chance from Marek Zidlicky at 14:19.
“I don’t think that’s an excuse,” said defenseman Brayden Coburn on the fatigue factor related to the hectic schedule in the final 5 weeks. “We have a fit team here. We have a lot of young guys; we have guys that are fast and powerful skaters so there’s no excuses not to have our legs under us.”
A scoreless opening period was tilted slightly into the New Jersey end of the ice, but Bobrovsky wasn’t tested until the late stages of the first.
Jersey’s initial close chance was thwarted by Coburn, who leaned on Parise enough at the left side so that a centering pass by Elias was directed wide of the far side with 3 1/2 minutes left.
On the next offensive foray, David Clarkson then emerged from a scrum behind the Philly net and his wraparound found Bobrovsky’s pad, but the rebound trickled to Alexei Ponikarovsky alone at the right post. Bob had enough time to straighten himself and flash the glove to mute the chance.
The run of luck disspated seconds after a pair of quick pad stops on Elias and Volchenkov.
Coburn was called for slashing with 42 seconds to play in the first, and the Devils broke into the offensive zone. Kovalchuk headmanned to Clarkson, whose quick redirection found Elias’ stick for a high redirection with 24.4 seconds left.
Notes: These clubs meet again on Tuesday in Philadelphia…For the first time in five games during the season series, the home team won on its own ice…New Jersey has won three of five in the yearly matchup…Kovalchuk reached the 30-goal plateau for the ninth time in his 10-year NHL career. He had 29 for Atlanta in his rookie campaign of 2001-02…Giroux tied a career high with his 25th goal of the season…Philly’s defense continued to take a hit with the absences of Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros and Pavel Kubina, and forward Jakub Voracek missed his third straight contest.