For most of the season, the Devils have had problems in the third period, particuarly with holding a lead. However last night continued the team's recent trend of strong third period play, as the Devils scored three straight goals to break open a tie game against the Flyers and give the team its fourth straight win in Rivalry Week+. In those four games the Devils have outscored their opposition by a combined 11-2 in third periods, and instead of trying to sit in a shell trying to protect a lead (a tactic that's largely going to be unsuccessful with this group of defensemen), they've been playing to their strength and holding a lead by scoring more - something I've been saying all along this team as constructed had to start doing.
While some observers felt this game lacked the juice of other Flyer-Devil games (given the fact the Devils were playing their 7th game in 11 nights and the Flyers 6th in 11), it had its usual chippiness - mostly due to the Flyers being naughty as usual. Early on, the troubling part of the game wasn't the Devils play but rather what the refs weren't calling. Whether it was Scott Hartnell giving rookie defenseman Adam Larsson shots after the whistle or Andres Lilja sitting on David Clarkson in the offensive zone for about ten seconds (long enough to take a dump on him really), the Flyers were basically allowed almost free rein including an obvious boarding of Clarkson late in the second period that somehow got missed by the ref looking at the play.
Ironically it was one of the few Flyer penalties that was called which led to the first goal of the game in the final minute of the first period. After an opening period of having the better of play and not being able to cash in on a number of chances against backup Sergei Bobrovsky, the Devils' suddenly potent power play only needed seventeen seconds to cash in, when Patrik Elias scored a tip-in goal off a nice feed from Clarkson (who's suddenly gotten much better at passing, as well as scoring this year) at 19:35 for the ageless wonder's 24th goal of the year.
One of the few memorable moments from the second period was a goon squad war when Jody Shelley tried to engage Cam Janssen but wound up taking an unsportsmanlike and a ten-minute misconduct after some pushing and shoving between fourth lines. For once, the Devils' goon line made some positive contributions with Janssen and Eric Boulton getting the best of the Flyers' more heralded grunts with strong forechecking. Just after that, Hartnell drew a retaliatory penalty against Bryce Salvador when the vet defenseman stuck up for Larsson after Hartnell's repeated cheap shots. Aside from the physical abuse, Larsson did have a rough game passing up a good scoring chance in the first and worse, getting blown by repeatedly on the outside by Flyer wingers putting their shoulder down and getting past him. Eventually he would get benched, as coach Pete DeBoer admitted after the game it just wasn't his night.
Still hanging on to that 1-0 lead heading into the third, it quickly dissapeared after just sixteen seconds when Claude Giroux scored off a Jaromir Jagr feed, as the Devils looked like they were still in the locker room mentally. It was interesting that the Flyers' strongest play of the game started right after Shelley's foolish penalty, like they thrive on being punks. Fortunately for us, they crested after the tying goal and soon after, the Devils had a two-on-one going the other way with Ilya Kovalchuk having the puck on his stick...and Anton Volchenkov (one goal as a Devil in about 120+ games with the team) skating on the other end of the play.
Those odds seemed to favor a Kovalchuk shot. Everyone in the building was either telling Kovy to shoot (like me) or expecting him to shoot, like Bobrovsky and defenseman Niklas Grossman. And Kovy...threw a perfect pass to Volchenkov who put it in a wide-open net for an improbable lead goal. At that point, I felt silly about screaming shoot, until I saw this admission from DeBoer after the game:
“Volchie saw a spot there and I was yelling from the bench for Kovy to shoot it. I saw who was with him,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “It goes to show you Kovy’s smarter than I am.”
After needing only two and a half minutes to get the lead back, the Devils went on the attack to keep it - and only needed to watch the Flyers self-destruct to get all the help they needed to finish the game. After Volchenkov interfered with Max Talbot, Talbot took a frustrated retaliatory penalty to cancel out what would have been a Flyer power play. Instead, the four-on-four favored the Devils as Kovalchuk did shoot this time - off a feed from Marek Zidlicky - and scored his 30th of the year at 8:08. Minutes later, the Flyers' king of thuggish play Zac Rinaldo took a four-minute high-sticking penalty on Ryan Carter and the Devils made him pay with yet another power play goal, this time a Zach Parise special from in close for the final goal of the night at 14:19.
On a night where Kovy earned the first star with three points, deadline acquisition Zidlicky continued his strong play with two assists and a +2 in a team-leading 24:05 of icetime and Martin Brodeur won his 650th career game, the main topic of discussion afterward was still the pass to Volchenkov with Kovy kidding that Volchenkov (not exactly known for footspeed) was 'skating like the wind'. His Russian teammate was more than a little amused at the compliment:
When told that Kovalchuk said he was “skating like the wind”, Volchenkov replied, “What?”
When it was repeated, he laughed.
“Wind,” he said. “I have no idea. That’s pretty funny. No more questions.”