If the New Jersey Devils were to have a reasonable chance against the Philadelphia Flyers in this playoffs series, then it was important that they win Game 2. That was going to be a difficult task as the Devils were by-and-large terrible in Game 1. While it was a close game, the Flyers showcased their superiority in depth, speed, and overall talent. Making matters worse was that the Devils would have to play Game 2 without their regular season leading scorer (and second in scoring in the playoffs), Ilya Kovalchuk due to what is believed to be a back injury. That forced the struggling David Clarkson up into a top-six role, while the Devils bumped up Steve Bernier a line, Peter Harrold from defense to wing, and Adam Larsson to play his first game in close to a month on defense. Prior to the game, it seemed like it was all in Philadelphia's favor. I certainly wasn't all that confident.
Fortunately, the games are played on the ice. Larsson had a fine game in his return to the ice, Clarkson got better as the game went on, and the Devils team put up a fantastic overall effort that was rewarded with four goals in the third period - including one each from the aforementioned Larsson and Clarkson. The Devils didn't just beat the Flyers, they trampled over them in a 4-1 game. Allow me to summarize the game by period.
The first period was the closest to an "even" period on the ice. The Flyers had a good start and a breakdown in coverage found Matt Read all alone with Martin Brodeur. Read botched the shot, but Brodeur dove because of the play; the puck eventually found it's way back to Read, who hammered past a recovering Brodeur. It was 1-0 Flyers and things were good. Yet, bit by bit, the Devils kept getting shots on net. Some came off the rush, some came off some offensive pressure, some came off the power play, and one turnaround shot by, I think, Bernier came off a turnover. The Devils would end the period 13-9 in shots and with a penalty to kill because Bryce Salvador felt hitting Braydon Schenn to prevent him from a puck was a smart idea. It wasn't, it was interference. Still, other than the goal, not a bad road period to a loaded Flyers team.
So, the Devils start off the second period and kill the penalty with aplomb. Then the Devils attacked. Then they attacked some more. Then they continued to attack. And this continued for about 18 minutes. The Flyers were held shotless for a vast majority of the period as the Devils backchecked well, controlled the neutral zone, and kept coming at the Flyers at all angles from all lines. The Devils got 12 shots on net and many more in the bodies of Flyers and away from the net. The play jacked up their Corsi to +25; and the Flyers were simply on their heels even against the likes of the fourth line. The Devils deserved to score, but Ilya Bryzgalov wasn't having it tonight. He was stopping everything save for a Ryan Carter shot that Bernier inadvertently blocked away at the crease. Bryzgalov was moving very well, his legs were seemingly everywhere, his five-hole wasn't available (sorry Adam Henrique), and, well, he just seemed big. With about 100 seconds left, Henrique got called with a slash on Claude Giroux, which led to Philadelphia's two shots on net in the third period. A dominating period in possession but they didn't score - and that's a frustrating situation. The Flyers surely weren't going to be pushed around and the Devils surely had to have some doubt about their gameplan after all of that work yielding no goals.
Thankfully, the Devils didn't deviate from the gameplan. They killed off the rest of the Henrique penalty. Marek Zidlicky got tagged for an incidental elbow; but Scott Hartnell decided grabbing Travis Zajac's stick was a good idea so there was 4-on-4. The Devils pushed forward, Dainius Zubrus cleaned up a loose puck and passed it to a streaking Adam Larsson, who torched Bryzgalov short side to finally get the Devils a goal. The Flyers pushed back a little; but they were to be undone again. While they won a defensive zone faceoff, Zach Parise is found alone in front of Bryzgalov with the puck. Bryzgalov knocks it away, but a crashing Clarkson pounds it into the net before he goes right into it himself to make it 2-1. Did the Flyers really press hard? Not really. Minutes later, Stephen Gionta fires a shot at Bryzgalov right after Eric Gustafsson blocked a Travis Zajac shot. Zajac picked up the loose puck, curled around the net, and finished the wraparound as Danny Briere stood by and watched to make it 3-1. Now, the Flyers really get their game together and show some of that Game 1 form, right? Not really. They get a late power play, Peter Laviolette figures he's got to convert so he pulls Bryzgalov to go 6-on-4. As it has been in New Jersey's end all night long, the Flyers' puck movement gets stopped, Salvador flings it forward, and the puck bounces into the net. A shorthanded, bouncing ENG to make it 4-1 and that was that. The Devils only out-shot the Flyers 10-9, but the goals were absolutely deserved.
Overall, the Devils out-shot the Flyers 35-20, the Devils' Corsi finished at +28, their Fenwick finished at +18, no Devil was negative in Fenwick or Corsi, they were perfect on the penalty kill, they were acceptable on the power play, they just finished ahead of Philly in faceoffs, and every single Devil contributed to this win. The Devils didn't just win Game 2 4-1, they decisively defeated the Flyers in their house and make it a five-game series. The Devils got the job done and have new life in this series. Bravo.
For an opposition's point of view, please read Travis Hughes' recap at Broad Street Hockey. For even more thoughts on tonight's win including links to stats and a highlight video, please continue on after the jump.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Highlight Video: Four third period goals, including Larsson's first ever NHL playoff goal and Clarkson's first playoff goal of 2012, are four reasons to watch this highlight video from NHL.com:
Forget It, Greg, It's McGuiretown: Before I jump into the game, let me point out that Pierre McGuire was absolutely terrible tonight. He was constantly giving his opinion only it didn't match up with what was going on the ice. His most shocking moment was explaining how the comfortable the Flyers look, how the pace of the game suited Philadelphia in the second period. Yes, the very same second period where the Devils put up 12 straight shots on net and only put two up within the final 1:30 or so of the period. It was at about 7-0 in shots when McGuire gave the world this thesis. He was pretty much in praise-Philly mode until the Devils were up 2-1 or so, then congratulating himself about the Devils' aggressiveness tonight. Yes, Pierre, you were the reason - not the fact that they were played off the ice in game 1. If he's this clueless on TV, then I can only hope he's worse in private. Montreal, I think you have your next GM.
Four with Four: Four Devils had four shots on net, tied for the team lead tonight: Parise, Zidlicky, Harrold, and Henrique. That's a top line winger, a defenseman who plays big minutes, a defenseman slotted at wing, and a rookie center on another line. It's an example of how much balance the Devils in their offense. Parise was strong all game long (and he hit a post, so he could have had five); Zidlicky had three first period shots and some boss shifts in the second period to keep play alive; Harrold was a sparkplug at wing on the fourth line as three of his four shots came at evens; and Henrique kept getting in positions to shoot. When this spread of players gets that much rubber on net, it's a very good sign.
I've Said It Before, I'll Say it Again: The Devils did not need to keep their lead, they needed to keep adding to their lead. The Devils did exactly this after they went up 2-1. Instead of dealing with the nervousness and stress that comes from a one-goal lead; the Devils helped themselves out with a two-goal buffer. It made the task more difficult for Philly, as they were forced to defend when they really needed to be attacking. It reduced the risk of a heartbreak and it made the end of the game more enjoyable to watch (the ENG helped).
Redemption Stories: A lot of players did far better than their big negatives in Game 1. Petr Sykora played limited minutes, but he put up a +10 in Corsi - evidence he wasn't wrecked this night. David Clarkson benefited from playing with Parise (+14 - led the team, yeah, he was strong tonight) and Patrik Elias (+12) as he put up +11 Corsi. It was fitting how he got his goal by doing something expected from him in general - going hard to the net in pursuit of a loose puck. Hopefully, he'll continue to do more. Zidlicky had a better game on defense. He was much smarter with the puck in his own end. He was fantastic at keeping the puck in the offensive zone. Plus, he helped drive play forward as indicated by his +13 Corsi. That's impressive given he saw quite a bit of Philly's top six.
While I didn't specifically call him out in the Game 1 recap, I will point out that Dainius Zubrus had a strong game. As the team's most versatile forward, he got bumped down to play with Travis Zajac and Petr Sykora. Zubrus was strong along the boards, he earned a +10 in Corsi, put three shots on net, and got two assists. Big Z put a big mark on the game.
Welcome Back: I have to give a lot of credit for Larsson tonight. He played his first hockey game since April 7 and he had to do it under some non-ideal circumstances, such as being paired with Anton Volchenkov. Larsson had a good game all things considered. OK, he made some iffy plays early on with the puck, but he settled down from the second period onward. Larsson attempted five shots, got two on net, and one into the net. His decision to jump up in a 4-on-4 situation was quite good and it was rewarded with the best possible result. On top of this, Larsson threw the body around. His most notable hit was when he pasted Giroux along the boards in the second period, erasing the possibility of Philly getting a shot on net. Sure, Larsson was protected and he only played a little over 13 minutes. Still, he wasn't a liability at all despite not playing for so long. Welcome back, Larsson, and welcome to the playoffs.
Welcome Back Too: Welcome back to being a goal scorer, Clarkson! You did it in a way most expect of you given your talents. Keep driving the net and firing away when you get a chance. You could get more - and the Devils would be most appreciative.
The Most Up Player: Travis Zajac continues to have a very strong postseason. He added three shots, got a wraparound goal to continue leading the Devils in playoff goals (5) and points (8). In fact, he's now seventh in the NHL in playoff scoring. All this and he's a positive possession player too. I hope Zajac continues to do what he does because he's been very valuable to this team so far in the playoffs.
The Down Player: What's up with Alexei Ponikarovsky? While his line with Henrique and Bernier had some very good offensive opportunities, he ended up behind them in Corsi. He was a +1 compared to Henrique's +6 and Bernier's +5. I know that line saw the Giroux line the most at evens; but he just seemed off at times. I suppose if you're looking for a Devil to be down on, then this is the guy. On a night like this, it's not that big of a deal - he wasn't an anchor, he just didn't do a lot when he had some opportunities to do so.
A Quibble: If there's one thing I didn't like from the Devils' offense tonight was that they got too clever on their rushes and their shots at times. There were some open looks passed up. There were some two-on-twos and three-on-twos where the shot ends up getting blocked (Elias seemed to be the biggest offender). Since the Devils got 35 shots on net and four goals, it speaks to how the Devils really controlled play. Yet, many of those 23 blocks the Flyers got on New Jersey bounced New Jersey's way. On another night, they end up on Flyers' sticks and so those second or third chances wouldn't happen. The Devils had the right game plan, the right mindset, and they were moving the puck extremely well. I just think they just need to take clearer shots.
One Goalie Worked Over, One Goalie Not So Much: I think Bryzgalov played as well as he could given the onslaught he faced. He saw a lot of rubber, a lot of attempts, and a lot of guys in orange jerseys not helping him out enough. The Flyers' backcheck wasn't very effective and there were entire shifts where the Devils did whatever they wanted. Bryzgalov was the first, second, and third reason why the Devils didn't blow away the Flyers in the second period. He made sure his five hole stayed closed, enough to a point where I want to tell Henrique to get a new move in one-on-one situations. Maybe I'm being kind, but I don't think you can fault him too hard on the goals allowed. Bryzgalov wasn't Philly's problem tonight. If the Flyers faithful want to get mad at someone, look to their skaters. In between Braydon Coburn and his -23 Corsi, James van Reimsdyk and his do-nothing night, or Danny Briere puck-watching (he stood still as Zajac went all the way around the net), I think they have plenty to choose from.
On the other end, hey, Martin Brodeur had a relatively easy night's work. Only 20 shots on net and only one scrambling, broken play led to the goal that beat him. That's not a bad night at all. I was concerned for him in the second period since he went so long without seeing a shot on net. It may seem irrational, but I was just hoping that the first shot Philly gets wouldn't be some backdoor play or deflection where the goaltender doesn't always get a stop on it. Yet, he stayed cool. As evidence that he still has the goods to come up with a big stop, just ask Wayne Simmonds. Brodeur showed him pads in denying him on a low angle shot on the right side.
Return of the Kill: Simmonds' shot on net came on the Flyers' fifth power play late in the third period. It was the only shot on net the Flyers got on all five of their power plays. That's right. A team that features Giroux, Jaromir Jagr (yes, he played tonight), Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen, and all kinds of other forwards to attack got one shot on net in 8:13 of power play time. The Devils' penalty killers were just everywhere they needed to be. They won battles for pucks, they got clearances, and they even showed a little offense. They only got one shot on goal - but Salvador's clearance bounced all the way into in the empty net, so it's all good. The PK went five for five and allowed only one shot. They were simply sensational tonight and I enjoyed watching them.
That said, the Devils could have avoided four of the five penalties tonight. Stephen Gionta knows better not to slash a goaltender after a whistle; Salvador should know about when he can or can't pin a guy against the wall; Henrique can't just retaliate to a slash by knocking Giroux's stick out of his hands; and Zubrus can't just knock a fallen stick away when it belongs to the other team. Thankfully, the PK made sure these calls didn't hurt New Jersey.
The Power Play Wasn't All Bad: I think the Devils had some great moments on the power play tonight. The first unit was strong in possession, they moved the puck well, and they set up good shots on net. The second unit wasn't so good. They got beaten to pucks and I thought the Flyers' PK had more success against them in terms of clearing the puck. Still, six shots on net in 6:13 of power play time is quite good. Especially since we've seen this team's power play do far worse.
The Kovalchuk Section: The Devils had an excellent team performance tonight. I'm sure the questions are already coming up as to whether Kovalchuk really needs to come back in Game 3. I don't know; it's up in the air as to whether he'll be healthy enough to do so for Thursday. I think he should if he's good to go. The Devils need to put their best lineup on the ice; and as great as this game was, it wasn't their best lineup.
I will say that I believe it is stupid to say or suggest that the Devils won this game in this manner because Kovalchuk wasn't playing. For starters, I don't see how the leading scorer and the league's fifth highest scorer this season was holding back the rest of the team. The Devils' record certainly doesn't go along with that. The Devils won Game 2 in such a powerful fashion because the 18 skaters in the lineup all had a hand in either attacking Philly's zone, defending their own to limit the number of opportunities the Flyers had to shoot, and/or keeping the puck going in the right direction through the neutral zone. This was very much a team win by the Devils after a Game 1 where the team mostly sucked, Kovalchuk aside. Even if Kovalchuk was perfectly fine, the entire team needed to up their game. They had to play their butts off. According to this post by Tom Gulitti, that's what Parise said and Parise also noted that it isn't about one guy.
Moreover, the Devils won in this way because Philadelphia collectively had a bad game. In most games, it's not an A or B situation when it comes to a decisive win. It's usually A and B; the A being the Devils doing everything well and the B being the Flyers not getting enough stops on defense, not making good passes, not marking Devils in their own end, and not adjusting enough to what the Devils were doing on the ice. The Flyers not playing their best game by a long shot was as big of a reason why Game 2 happened the way it did as the team played. Kovalchuk's injury is irrelevant to that side of the game.
One More Thing: As great as tonight's win was (and it was great), I fully expect the Flyers to come out much harder in Game 3. I do not believe for a second that Peter Laviolette will allow his team to perform like they did tonight as most as he can help it. I do not believe for a second that the Flyers players will just accept tonight's performance; they will respond themselves. Nothing got decided tonight; the series is just tied. Remember: The Devils tied up the series 1-1 in 2010 and that didn't turn out wel at all.
That's my take on tonight's big win. Now I want to know what you think. Which Devil player impressed you the most tonight? What part of the Devils' performance in this win did you like the most? Which one of the four goals was your favorite? What do you think the Devils need to improve upon for Game 3? Do you make any changes to this lineup after this game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's 4-1 win in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the gamethread as well as with @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.