Saturday, February 4, 2012

Devils bulid up huge lead, survive late Flyer onslaught

At home the previous two games, the Devils fell behind and kept having to fight back to win. This afternoon in Philly, the Devils put up a huge lead by scoring three goals in the first, three goals in the second and yet the game was still in doubt after the Flyers put up four in response during a wild third period. Finally time ran out however, and despite being outshot 24-1 and being cheap-shotted all over the place (some called, some not), the Devils outlasted the Flyers 6-4 despite missing a handful of regulars from the lineup.

Sometimes teams fall asleep in afternoon games and come out flat. One could say the Flyers did that today, but I myself was trying to take a nap and almost completely forgot about the game. Ironically enough it was when I was logging on and saw a score update that the Devils were up 3-0 that I was like...really? Then I turned it on just in time to see the Devils put up two more early in the second, finally chasing Sergei Bobrovsky after a sixth later in the period.

New Jersey scored an incredible four special teams goals, including two on extended five-on-threes by Kurtis Foster, yes the same Foster that was more or less exiled two nights ago but got a reprieve after rookie Adam Larsson had to miss this afternoon's contest. Again the Devils dressed seven defensemen, calling up the immortal Peter Harrold to be the seventh D/twelfth forward. Foster opened the scoring at 3:05 after back-to-back Flyer penalties gave the Devils their first two-man advantage, and incensed the Flyer fans and no doubt coach Peter 'The Whiner from Uniondale' Laviolette.

Philly would actually have a reason to be upset later in the period, when they were on their own power play but Ilya Kovalchuk got a breakaway, in part due to an uncalled hook on Danius Zubrus, and Kovy scored shorthanded with just fifty-seven seconds left in the period. Stunned after the late goal, the Flyers let up and with less than half a second remaining, Zubrus managed to beat Bobrovsky and the clock to put the Devils up a three-spot. Incensed after the turn of events, the Flyers committed about fifteen penalties before the Zubrus goal that weren't called, and Scott Hartnell lost his head after it, giving the Devils a power play to begin the second period by throwing around his usual quota of cheap shots after the play was over.

Hartnell's idiocy led to another quick goal, scored by Zach Parise just thirty-eight seconds into the second period. It would not be the last time a Flyer cheap shot affected the scoreboard this afternoon. Continuing their meltdown they allowed yet another goal to Alexei Ponikarovsky fifty-nine seconds later to go down five. Back-to-back roughing and cross-checking penalties by Tom Sestito and Braydon Coburn gave the Devils yet another two-man advantage, and once again big Foster had enough time and space to get his shot through, completing his surprising two-goal, three-point night (the first of the defenseman's career).

Now up an incredible six goals, and after outshooting the Flyers 30-17 in the first two periods it looked for all the world like the only concern in the third would be if the Flyers decided to cheapshot one of our better players, and how much we'd be able to rest our top players with a game in less then twenty-four hours. To their credit, the Flyers came to play in the third period and first spoiled the shutout attempt of Johan Hedberg with some brilliant hand-eye coordination by Wayne Simmonds giving the big forward a goal at 3:59. Even that goal looked like more of an annoyance, but we were still fine for a while, despite having to kill a penalty by Parise. Jaromir Jagr scored at 9:23 to make it 6-2, and at this point we were still okay, but now you knew another goal would make this game more of a headache than it needed to be - and there were still more than ten minutes left.

As it turned out, it was a cheapshot by Philly's Zac Rinaldo, slewfooting Parise that wound up unjustly turning the game. While Rinaldo did get sent to the box, so did Kovalchuk, Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov - the former after he tried to challenge Rinaldo to a fight to stick up for his teammate, then wound up having to square off with (and drop quickly) teenage Braydon Schenn after Rinaldo backed off the fight. That's as lame as anything I've ever seen Sean Avery do, and it's not the first time Rinaldo's been on our radar either. After cheap-shotting Zach in the preseason, Brad Mills made the team in part because he stuck up for his captain and fought Rinaldo then.

Despite a deliberate attempt to injure, the penalties all wound up canceling out and Ponikarovsky's tripping penalty fourteen seconds later incredibly put the Flyers on the power play - with our top forward and two defensive penalty killers in the box. So, of course Claude Giroux broke out of a slump by scoring at 12:40 to bring the Flyers back to within three. And with Volchenkov and Salvador still in the box, they kept applying pressure and took advantage of our already injury-riddled defense by scoring yet again at 13:37, this time Jacob Voracek got the goal sending what remained of the crowd into a frenzy.

While clearly the Devils did not come to play in the third period (as evidenced by what would be an incredible shot total of 24-1 in favor of the Flyers in the final twenty minutes), and even more troubling played scared after it got to's still a shame that a missed slewfoot and cheap play wound up resulting in two goals. Even mild-mannered coach Pete DeBoer after the game said there was no place for that and hoped discipline czar Brendan Shanahan would take a look at that, as well as a Rinaldo cheapshot on Jacob Josefson earlier in the game.

Despite the Flyers' continuing onslaught after it got to 6-4 and a penalty by Andy Greene in the final thirty seconds, it got no closer thanks to some outstanding Hedberg saves - in his first start in nearly a month. Although the Devils' frightening goal difference in the third period this season wasn't helped by today, you still have to look at the fact that they gained two points and the Flyers none in a game where we were missing our top three centers, two of our top defensemen and our offense is kicking it into gear with thirteen goals since the All-Star break. Not to mention the Devils' win put them ten games over .500 for the first time this season, and with every game meaning so much at this point with the standings bunched together, you can't dismiss the importance of any win.

And with the Penguins coming to town tomorrow, you also can't dwell on what happened in the third period either. Just keep winning.

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