I admit it, after Game 1 I thought the Devils were out of their weight class against the Flyers. A game which saw the Devils dominate the first period quickly got dismissed by many including me as a brief aberration based on the Flyers’ long break when Philly dominated the last forty-five minutes including an OT where Danny Briere scored twice – the second time legally – to give the Flyers a 4-3 Game 1 win. Philly looked bigger, stronger and faster, much the way they did in 2010 against the Devils.
However, nothing was going to stop this Devils team from winning tonight. Not even the absence of Ilya Kovalchuk (ruled out due to a lower-body injury), or conceding an early goal by Matt Read 2:53 in, or watching Ilya Bryzgalov turn aside twenty-five shots in the first two periods was going to deter these determined Devils. Finally, they got their just reward from what was by all accounts a dominant effort with no fewer than four third period goals, including a surprising opener from Adam Larsson. The young Swede had been the forgotten man on the team after being benched in favor of Peter Harrold late in the season, but ironically Kovy’s injury provided an opportunity for Larsson to play on D (with Harrold manning the wing and getting some PP point time), and he made the most of it with a huge goal off of assists from Harrold and Danius Zubrus at 3:08.
New Jersey’s next goal also came from someone who hadn’t scored yet in the postseason – thirty-goal man David Clarkson, who put home a rebound from a Zach Parise shot to give the Devils the lead at 11:17. For his efforts, Clarkson wound up on top of a dislodged net after the goal was scored, but the goal did count and was Clarkson’s seventh point in nine postseason games...despite not having a goal until that moment. At 14:01, Travis Zajac scored a crucial insurance goal, putting home a wraparound with Zubrus and Stephen Gionta getting the assists on the gritty centerman’s fifth goal of the postseason, after having had his regular season shortened to just fifteen games due to achilles issues.
With Zubrus in the box after a late interference penalty and the faceoff in the Devils’ zone, the Flyers pulled Bryzgalov to get a two-man advantage. However, New Jersey took advantage of the empty net in the most unlikely fashion possible when Bryce Salvador cleared a puck almost from his own crease, and the puck not only bounced but also inexplicably curved until it found itself deposited neatly in the open goal for the coup de grace at 17:09. Now that the game was out of reach, the Flyers resorted to their typical goon tactics late, with Max Talbot and Wayne Simmonds both getting misconducts in the final sixteen seconds, but fortunately the shenanigans came too late to hurt figuratively or literally.
For the first time since late March I missed a game, out at a movie with friends. Maybe I would have been better off staying home since Cabin in the Woods sucked. At least I taped the game and was able to re-watch the third period. Ironically, I didn’t want to know any score updates during the movie cause I figured it wouldn’t be good news and my friend didn’t help when she told me the Flyers were already up 1-0 just before the movie started. After we got out of the theater, I saw the 1-1 update, and by the time I got to my car it had changed to 2-1. Then I turned on the radio just in time to hear Zajac’s goal, and got home in time to see Salvador’s troll job on the Flyers.
Admittedly, I came into this series hoping not to get embarrassed, but now that the Devils have shown they can play with the Flyers (and their one-point difference during the regular season and fairly even season series should have convinced me of that before), they have every chance to win this series. Especially with a grittier, more determined team than we’ve seen around here since 2003. Maybe we won’t win the series in the end, but at least now I’m confident there’s more excitement to come. And I can’t wait to experience the atmosphere at the Rock on Thursday for a Game 3 at 1-1 in the series. It was electric enough at the end of Game 6 against Florida, now that we finally broke the first-round jinx and shown we have a chance in this series it’s going to be absolutely nuts for the next two games.