Although they came out with more energy and effort, the Philadelphia Flyers fell to the Devils for a fourth straight game with a 3-1 defeat at the Wells Fargo Center tonight in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, ending one of the most interesting playoffs in recent memory.
New Jersey now awaits the winner of the Rangers/Caps series and will begin the Eastern Conference Finals some time next week.
Peter DeBoer’s club reached the third round for the first time since 2003, when the Devils won the last of their three Stanley Cups. The head coach echoed some key themes that led the franchise to their titles:
“I just think sticking to our game plan and we recognized early in the series what we needed to do to be successful. We just kept bringing that game to the rink. Philly pushed back very hard tonight and we weathered the storm, got some saves when we needed to and did what we had to do to get a win.”
David Clarkson recorded the game-winner on a misplay by Ilya Bryzgalov, while Martin Brodeur made 27 saves in the win. Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and an assist in the win, as Adam Henrique also had a multi-point performance with a pair of helpers.
Max Talbot recorded the short-handed hosts’ only goal tonight. Brayden Schenn and Danny Briere registered assists on the goal in a disappointing loss for the Orange and Black.
It came without the services of leading scorer Claude Giroux, lost to a one-game suspension for his actions in Sunday’s Game 4. The 24-year-old nonetheless showed signs of his burgeoning leadership by heading to ice level for the handshake line while not dressed, and also faced the music in the post-game media scrum in the locker room.
“Personally, I’m running out of time to be honest,” said defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who is reported to have suffered a knee ligament injury during the opening round. “After the Pittsburgh series, I really thought this was our chance. Look at the teams who were out. Look at the teams that were in — and I thought every team was beatable. I don’t have many chances left. This was a wasted opportunity for us.”
Brzygalov denied 27-of-30 shots tonight, but it was his stick-handling play in the first period that altered the outcome of the contest.
With the disc at the side of the Flyers’ net in a tied game late in the opening period, Bryzgalov looked to clear it out of the Flyers’ zone. Unfortunately for Bryz, Clarkson gained ground on him quicker than expected and deflected the goaltender’s weak clear attempt into the back of the net for his second goal of the playoffs at 12:45.
“I honestly had no idea it went in until I heard the crowd yelling,” Clarkson said. “Just to be on the forecheck when that went in is an unbelievable feeling.”
The tally not only gave Jersey the lead, it killed the Flyers’ momentum and energy early in the game.
After a couple of penalty kills late in the second period, Philly hoped the third period would mean more time in the Devils’ zone. Unfortunately for the Flyers, this wasn’t the case, as an ill-advised holding infraction from James van Riemsdyk allowed Kovalchuk to put the nail in the coffin.
Four seconds into the Devils’ power play, Kovalchuk released a slap shot from the top of the circles off an Adam Henrique face-off win that beat Bryzgalov high glove-side for a 3-1 lead with exactly 15 minutes left in regulation.
Philly couldn’t beat Brodeur for the remainder of the game, but at least prevented the 40-year-old a final insult and didn’t provide the puck-handling netminder a shot to score on an empty net in the final 2 1/2 minutes.
Dainius Zubrus, put temporarily out of commission due to a Rinaldo knee-on-knee hit in the second, had an empty-netter wiped out during that stretch. ”
They played a lot like the Rangers, admitted Scott Hartnell. “We got the puck in the corner on a soft chip and it seemed like they had four guys on you in the corner. It is probably one of the biggest reasons why we couldn’t beat the Rangers this year. They just smothered you. It was tough to make plays when your back is against the wall or out in the ice.
The Flyers addressed the fact they had been out played over the last few games and started tonight’s affair with some physicality.
After Anton Volchenkov bulldozed Schenn behind the Devils’ net, Zac Rinaldo — the replacement for Giroux — executed his role perfectly and exacted revenge for his teammate. In the line-up due to Claude Giroux’s one-game suspension, Rinaldo found Volchenkov in the Devils’ zone immediately after Jersey’s defenseman advanced the puck up ice and annihilated him legally.
The hit got the Flyers going, as Talbot put home the game’s first tally shortly afterwards.
Cycling in New Jersey’s zone led to Briere with the puck at the bottom of the circle after Talbot won a puck battle behind Jersey’s net. Briere moved a pass through the crease to Schenn, who put a shot on Brodeur that created a rebound resulting in a scrum in the Devils’ crease. Through the mass of bodies in front, Talbot deposited a rebound for his fourth goal of the playoffs at 7:18.
Philly’s lead lasted a shade over two minutes however, as Bryce Salvador received some luck on a shot from the top of the circles to tie the score at one.
At the top of the circle closest to the benches, Salvador let go of a shot that redirected off of Wayne Simmonds’ stick. With Bryzgalov already dropping to his knees, the deflection led to the shot hitting the bottom of the crossbar over Bryzgalov’s right shoulder and traveling to the back of the net 2:09 after Talbot’s marker.
A few minutes later, Clarkson’s fluky go-ahead goal occurred.
No goals were scored in the second period, but the Flyers did keep their intensity up despite only seven official shots on goal, to keep their deficit one heading into the final 20 minutes.
Philly had some scoring chances during the middle stanza with the best opportunity coming on a turnover from Brodeur. The veteran netminder tried to wrap a pass around the boards when Schenn intercepted the disc in the corner. Schenn moved the puck to Briere, who beat Brodeur to the front of the net, but hit the post instead of the back of the net.
Notes: Giroux ended the postseason with eight goals and 17 points in 10 games, still the leader amongst all NHL players…Briere finished this postseason sixth on the franchise points list…The loss marked the 11th time in 96 series in Flyers playoff history that the club lost four in a row during a single best-of-seven set…The Devils improved to 8-7 all-time in playoff games at Philadelphia, and evened the all-time playoff game record against Philly to 14-14…Rinaldo had six hits and two PIMs in 8:43 TOI…Andrej Meszaros, who missed the Flyers’ last 29 games (since March 1), had three hits and blocked two shots in 19:26 TOI…The last time the Flyers lost a playoff series in five games was the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins…This was also the eighth time in franchise history they lost in the second round of the playoffs and second season in succession…This is the third time the Flyers have lost to the Devils in the postseason, following defeats in the 1995 and 2000 Eastern Finals. Both times, New Jersey went on to win the Stanley Cup…The hosts outhit the visitors 38-26.