Devils’ Season Ends with a Thud

Here is my recap of the Devils 3-0 loss to the Flyers in Game 5, ending their season. I will have a season-ending roster report in the coming days:

Philadelphia 3               Devils 0

The New Jersey Devils have officially become the NHL’s version of baseball’s Atlanta Braves: they have one of the best records in the league year in and year out, but haven’t found a way to get even close to the Stanley Cup Finals since 2003. By losing to the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in five games, it became the third consecutive postseason in which the Devils failed to advance at least one round.

The Flyers (picked by no one to win the series) won in convincing fashion in the clinching Game 5 by a score of 3-0, without two of their best players — Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter — who both suffered foot injuries in Game 4. “I can’t speak for the past years,” said Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, “it’s being able to believe in what we’ll do and play playoff-hockey. There’s not ten ways to play in the playoffs, there’s not; there’s one way to play — that’s how we need to play, otherwise we have no chance to win. We didn’t play that way.”

Making matters worse for New Jersey, they were eliminated for the third straight spring in their brand-new, shiny, three-year-old arena, forcing their faithful fans to endure watching another post-game handshake on the Prudential Center ice; they are now 3-7 in ten playoff games at the Rock. When asked if he was shocked by yet another early summer vacation, Devils defenseman Colin White gave a simple explanation that summed it all up, “Obviously yeah; it sucks. Lots of things go wrong to lose four games in a series. Not just one thing, especially that way — four games to one — we didn’t give ourselves much of a chance.”

The Flyers gave the Devils an opportunity to seize control of the game (and perhaps some momentum in the series) when Dan Carcillo took an ill-advised tripping penalty just 43 seconds into the match; but New Jersey’s power play sputtered and 46 seconds after the man-advantage began it was over as captain Jamie Langenbrunner was handed an avoidable tripping minor. After a brief four-on-four, Philadelphia converted on their power play when a pass from Claude Giroux hit Daniel Briere in the skates and slipped between Devils goalie Martin Brodeur’s right skate and the goal post — giving the Flyers all of the offense they would need on this night.

New Jersey still had its chances to even the game, but they were unable to solve third-string goalie Brian Boucher who soundly outplayed Brodeur in four of the five games. In the second period, still down just one goal, the Devils fired nine shots at Boucher and they were rebuffed each time. “Tonight he looked extremely confident in net, like it wasn’t a question,” said coach Peter Laviolette of his goaltender. “He was in charge of his crease; he was in charge of the puck.” In contrast the Flyers were held to only four shots on goal in the middle period — and scored twice on Brodeur in a span of 1:59, both by 2010 Devil-killer Giroux (six points in five games).

The only Devils players who never seemed to give up throughout the night were Ilya Kovalchuk (seven shots on goal) and Dainius Zubrus (four), but they needed more help that never came in a must-win game. Lemaire pretty much admitted after the game that he could tell his players weren’t ready to battle like the Flyers were. “There are little things — battles here, battles there, the sharpness of the individual, being really positive on everything, when you try do certain things, change certain things you have their look that tells you they understand and they want to do it. It was a little lacking there.”

Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac had horrible series, Zach Parise might as well been invisible because he never could get around the imposing Chris Pronger, and Patrik Elias never found his scoring touch (four assists, no goals, -2) in any of the five games. “It’s never just one thing when you get beat like that; it’s a combination of things,” explained disappointed Devils defenseman Andy Greene. “Special teams were a big factor, they had some big power play goals and some big stops and vice versa — we didn’t get the goals we needed on the PP and we let in a few goals on the PK, this time of year that’s what it’s about.”

For New Jersey, it was another Cup-dream shattered as reality smacked them in the face and sent them packing before May 1 for the third consecutive season. “There will be 29 teams feeling exactly the way I’m feeling right now,” said Brodeur. “There will be one team that will be ecstatic this year; you have to put that in perspective. But at the same time, when you have opportunities and you feel that your organization is making moves to get yourself in a position to be successful, and you fold in five (games), it’s just not right.”

Game 5 Hero: Claude Giroux

Game 5 Goat: Martin Brodeur

Game Notes: After winning the World Series in 1995, the Atlanta Braves were eliminated ten straight years without a title, losing five times in the first round; they’ve now failed to qualify for the postseason over the last four seasons after a 14-year run of playoff appearances. The Devils have made the playoffs for 13 straight seasons, won nine Atlantic Division titles, 12 100-point seasons, three Stanley Cups; they have failed to get past the second round since 2003, with three straight first round exits (2008-Rangers, 2009-Hurricanes, 2010-Flyers) and their record in postseason games since 2003 is 16-26, 6-16 over their last 22. Elias has just two even-strength goals over his last 27 postseason games. New Jersey finished the series 4-for-32 on the PP (12.5%) and Philadelphia was 8-for-29 (27.6%). Pronger led all skaters in ice-time with 28:49 and Kovalchuk led the Devils with 24:45; Pronger also had a game-high six blocked shots, New Jersey only had five total as a team. Kovalchuk led all players with seven shots on goal and Giroux led Philadelphia with four. Flyers captain Mike Richards led all players in the series with eight points (2g-6a) and Kovalchuk led the Devils with six points (2g-4a). Philadelphia is the first team to advance to the second round this postseason and will likely play the top-seeded Washington Capitals.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Claude Giroux (Phil) – 2 goals (4), assist (2)

#2 – Daniel Briere (Phil) – gw/pp goal (2), assist (3)

#3 – Mike Richards (Phil) – 2 assists (6)

Dan Rice covers the New Jersey Devils & NHL for NYCSportsnetwork.com and IslesNation.com. He can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

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