Devils Ride Their A-Train Past Flyers

New Jersey Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov is a very likeable guy, he’s got kind of a goofy, yet genuine smile and always puts the team first in sacrificing his body to block shots or using his body in violent collisions against the opposition, so when he contributes offensively everyone smiles a little more after a win. It took the A-Train almost a season and a half (102 games) to register his first goal as a Devil, and his second goal (sixteen games later) was the tie-breaking/game-winning goal in Sunday night’s 4-1 triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers at Prudential Center.

“He saw a spot there, and I was yelling at Kovy (Ilya Kovalchuk) from the bench to shoot it when I realized who was with him,” said coach Pete DeBoer while smiling broadly and laughing. The coach chuckled again and added, “It goes to show you that Kovy is smarter than I am.”

The game was even throughout the first period until the Flyers took a penalty in the dying minutes, setting the stage for New Jersey to grab the lead. David Clarkson and Patrik Elias worked a brilliant give-and-go play (both on their backhands) as they crossed the blue line that resulted in Elias backhanding his 24th goal of the season past Sergei Bobrovsky with 25 seconds left in the period. “Patty made a great play getting me the puck and I just gave it back to him,” said Clarkson describing the scoring play. “He just flipped it upstairs on the goalie; a great play by him and it got us going early.”

A scoreless second period ensued as both teams squandered two power plays apiece over the twenty minutes, setting up an interesting final period between two evenly matched teams. It took all of sixteen seconds for Philadelphia to even the score as Claude Giroux converted Jaromir Jagr’s nifty pass from behind the net over Martin Brodeur’s right shoulder.

Jut over two minutes later the Devils retook a one-goal lead when Volchenkov and Kovalchuk completed a two-on-one that saw the 398 career goal scorer pass to the 18-goal scorer. “I did the same thing as the first time,” said a grinning Volchenkov. “He made a great pass to me. I play a lot of defense, and PK, but when there’s a chance to help offense, I try.” Kovalchuk held onto the puck as long as he could, drawing the defender’s attention towards him and then threaded a perfect pass that his fellow countryman buried into the Flyers net.

“That was a big goal by Volchie,” said a smiling Kovalchuk. “he was looking like a forward there. He never gave up, he moved up on the play and he scored a big goal.” When I asked if he knew it was Volchenkov with him on the rush he responded, “Yeah definitely. He’s one of a kind; you’re never gonna mistake him for someone else, you know?”

Kovalchuk netted his 399th career goal, and 30th of the season at 8:08, wiring a redirection pass from Marek Zidlicky past a helpless Bobrovsky, giving New Jersey a two-goal lead against their suddenly-struggling to score division rivals. “That’s my job to go and make plays for my teammates,” said Kovalchuk, “and score goals if I can”

Captain Zach Parise salted the game away when he tallied a power play goal at 14:19, leaving the only drama remaining whether or not the Devils would surrender more than one goal for the first time since March 1 in Boston (six games). Brodeur stood his ground and gave the Flyers nothing, sending his squad into Philadelphia on Tuesday riding a four-game winning streak.

“It’s a big win,” said Brodeur afterwards. “If we want to do well in the playoffs we are going to have to face different types of teams, and the Flyers are one of them. We’re starting to play a little better on home ice and that’s a good thing; we played three solid games in a row (at home) against big rivals. Guys are playing well and we aren’t getting into (as many) shootouts as we were earlier.”

Game Notes: The win for Brodeur was career win number 650; not counting the 99 playoff victories he has. Kovalchuk now has 43 points in 44 career games against the Flyers; Elias has 75 points in 75 games vs Philly. Clarkson, Parise and Kovalchuk all extended their point-streaks to four games. Flyers forward Daniel Briere is without a goal since January 7 — 23 games. Zidlicky led all skaters in ice-time with 24:05; Braydon Coburn led Philadelphia with 22:36. Elias, Clarkson and Coburn led all players with four shots on goal apiece. New Jersey (85 points, 5th in East) plays at Philadelphia (85 points, 6th in East) on Tuesday night in the final game of the season series.

Dan’s 3 Stars of the Game:
#1 — Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ): goal (30), 2 assists (41)
#2 — Patrik Elias (NJ): pp goal (24), assist (43)
#3 — Anton Volchenkov (NJ): gw goal (2), 2 hits (151)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

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Hedberg Stands Tall as Devils Outlast Flyers

Devils 2 Philadelphia 1 — shootout

Despite losing to the New York Islanders 2-0 at the Nassau Coliseum on Black Friday (snapping their modest two-game winning streak) the New Jersey Devils were able to rebound and beat the division-leading Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 2-1 in a shootout 24 hours later at Prudential Center. The Devils have now won four in a row at home and the last three of those can directly be attributed to the play in goal by Johan Hedberg who has surrendered only two goals in the three games, stopping 83 of the 85 shots he has faced. “He’s been incredible. It seems like he’s a goalie that the more shots he gets, the better he is,” said New Jersey’s Travis Zajac. “Today, they got a lucky one on him, other than that he’s been making key saves for us in key situations of games.”

Just 1:52 into the game the Flyers found themselves shorthanded for four minutes when Scott Hartnell smacked Brian Rolston in the head with his stick. Although the Devils didn’t score on the power play they gained some early territorial momentum and had seven shots on goal before Philly had registered its first of the day. Adam Mair scored his first goal of the season at 11:49, snapping a wrist shot past Flyers goalie Brian Boucher’s stick hand to give New Jersey the early 1-0 lead. “It feels great; I’ve had some chances,” said Mair afterwards. “As a hockey player, you always like to score; you always like to help contribute offensively.”

Philadelphia out-shot the Devils 41-18 for the game after the first eight minutes but they were never able to solve Hedberg until Daniel Briere scored the tying goal from behind the goal line 8:38 into the third period, his 12th of the season. “He just shot it at me,” said Hedberg. “I think he shot it from the side of the net, it bounced up and hit my thigh and went in. It’s just one of those things.”

After a scoreless overtime, the game went to a shootout where the first two shooters on each team were turned aside without a goal — Ilya Kovalchuk and Mattias Tedenby for New Jersey, Claude Giroux and Briere for Philly. Nikolay Zherdev beat Hedberg through his five-hole, putting pressure on Jason Arnott to keep the game alive for his fellow Devils. “I just had it in my head what I was going to do all along and it helps when you have it in your head what you are going to do,” confessed Arnott. “I knew Boucher was going down a little bit early, and I wanted to go (top) shelf; I wanted to make sure I got it off quick and hard…and it went in.”

Flyers’ captain Mike Richards rang a wrist shot off the post in round 4 before Zajac clinched the win with his sharp wrist shot that went by Boucher so fast it hit the back of the twine and popped right back out past the Flyers netminder. “I said to myself if I got a chance I would just fake a shot, and then try to go upstairs,” said Zajac. “To be able to come back today (after Friday’s loss) and get the two points against a very good hockey team, that was important for us.”

Game Notes: Devils winger Patrik Elias missed the game because his wife Petra was giving birth to their first child, Sophia Gabriella. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 26:31, while Matt Carle led Philadelphia with 25:40. Jeff Carter, who assisted on Briere’s goal, led all players with nine shots on goal; Kovalchuk led New Jersey with eight. Flyers d-man Kimmo Timonen led all players with four blocked shots. New Jersey (8-14-2) is off until Thursday when they host Montreal (15-8-1) and Philadelphia (15-6-4) is back in action on Wednesday when they host Boston (12-7-2).

 

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 40 saves, win (4)

#2 – Travis Zajac (NJ) – g/w shootout goal

#3 – Daniel Briere (Phil) – pp goal (12)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Devils-Flyers Postgame Quotes [11.27.10]

Travis Zajac:

Talking about rebounding from a loss the day before…

“We wanted to get those points yesterday, but to be able to come back today and get the two points against a very good hockey team; that was important for us.”

Was your move planned ahead in the shootout?

“I said to myself if I got a chance I would just fake a shot, then try to go upstairs.”

Were you trying to get him to go down?

“Yeah.”

Was it nice to get that goal when goals have been hard to come by this season for you?

“(smiles) Yeah; I wish those counted on the score sheet. It’s been a struggle for us the last couple of games. We haven’t done too much on offense, but our defense has been solid. I think if we continue to play hard defensively we are going to get more and more opportunities; but we still have to work on creating stuff offensively. It’s tough to win games when you score one goal a game, lucky for us our goalie has kept us in the last couple of times. We still have to find ways to score.”

What did you think of Hedberg’s game tonight?

“He’s been incredible. It seems like he’s a goalie that the more shots he gets, the better he is. Today, they got a lucky one on him, other than that he’s been making key saves for us in key situations of games. He’s the reason we won three out of four (games) this week.”

Johan Hedberg:

Did (Nikolay) Zherdev’s shot go through your five-hole there?

“Yeah, he fooled me. I thought he was going to shoot up, but it was a quick release, beat me five-hole.”

Did Danny Briere’s goal go in off your leg?

“Well I think what happened was they passed across (the crease) and it hit a skate, came back out and then Briere shot it at me. I think he shot it from the side of the net, it bounced up and hit my thigh and went in.”

Talking about the recent shootouts…

“Sometimes you don’t see one for thirty games, and then when you see them it’s four in five nights.”

Jason Arnott:

You scored a huge pressure goal today…almost 18,000 people were holding their breath; how did you feel going into it?

“(laughs) I just relaxed. The referee blowing the whistle as quick as he did so I could go instead of thinking about it helped a lot. I just had it in my head what I was going to do all along and it helps when you have it in your head what you are going to do.”

Tell me what was in your head?

“I knew he was going down a little bit early, and I wanted to go (top) shelf; it went bar and in. I wanted to make sure I got it off quick and hard…and it went in.”

It wasn’t the winner though, what about Zajac’s shot?

“He put a great move on the goalie; he came right in and put it upstairs. I can’t say enough about Travis — he comes to compete every night, he’s not always on the score sheet but he’s always playing solid defensively — and all around the ice. He’s been playing real well for us.”

You guys have won three of the last four games and seemed to have turned things around; how big was this one?

“It was huge; especially after a disappointing output yesterday, we wanted to come in, we knew Philly is atop the conference — we wanted to come in and just play hard. We haven’t had a whole lot of wins at home, the fans were behind us today and we battled it out. We were missing Patty as well, and everybody just chipped in where we could.”

Adam Mair:

Talking about his first point as a Devil…

“It feels good to contribute offensively and help the team win. I think as a whole we really got it together and played well; down shorthanded, the third game in three and a half nights, it was a good effort.”

How did it feel to get your first goal of the year?

“It feels great; I’ve had some chances. It’s not necessarily what’s expected of certain players on the team, but as a hockey player, you always like to score, you always like to help contribute offensively.”

What did you think of Hedberg today?

“He played great; he played great all week. He’s really been the backbone of our team and the success of our team; I can’t say enough good things about him. His work ethic, even when he wasn’t in the net; you need solid goaltending to win and Johan has done nothing but provide that, especially over the last week or so.”

Off the Ice with…Martin Biron

Recently I was able to screen New York Rangers goaltender Martin Biron long enough to ask him a few questions about the life of an NHL goalie, as well as his favorite movie, TV shows and what he brings with him on road trips. Biron is a 33-year-old from Lac St. Charles, Quebec, who was originally drafted by Buffalo in the first round (16th overall) in 1995. Over his 13 NHL seasons his record is 212-178-49 in 469 games, with 26 shutouts, a 2.63 GAA and a .910 save pct. He is considered one of the ‘good guys’ of the NHL, always a good interview and trust me — he has never met a microphone he didn’t like. His best season to date was probably in 2001-02 when he won 31 of the 72 games he appeared in for the Sabres and posted a stellar 2.22 GAA.

Biron finally made the Sabres roster as a regular during the 1999-2000 season, as the backup to future Hall-of-Famer Dominik Hasek and finished the year with a 19-18-2 record and five shutouts. In total he played parts of nine seasons in Buffalo, but never really had a hold on the number one goalie job. After finally taking over when Hasek left to play in Detroit, Biron broke his thumb and the Sabres called up Ryan Miller, who is still the starting netminder in Buffalo’s crease today (see: 2010 Vezina Trophy, 2010 Silver Medal for Team USA). During the 2006-07 season, Biron was dealt to Philadelphia and the following season he helped lead the Flyers to the East Finals before losing against Pittsburgh. He stayed in the Philly for a total of two and a half seasons and in 2009-10 he served as Dwayne Roloson’s backup with the New York Islanders, but he had only signed a one-year contract there. This past summer, he inked a two-year deal with the Rangers, to give All-Star Henrik Lundqvist (who has been overplayed) some more games off.

So far this season he has done exactly what the Rangers have asked of him — in seven games he is 4-2-0 with a save percentage of .907 and a 2.33 GAA. So just who is Martin Biron off the ice? Read on:

Dan Rice: What do you remember about your first win in the NHL?

Martin Biron: “Oh, I remember I got called up from Rochester (AHL) to play against Dallas at home, in Buffalo; I was having a pretty good year in Rochester, (my second year there). A bunch of my buddies from Pee-Wee hockey and Bantam hockey from Quebec City decided to drive up, so they were at the game. I remember Rob Ray made a joke, a funny comment before the game, between warm-ups and the start of the game, he said: ‘Don’t worry Marty, if it doesn’t go well, you’ll get over it; we all do.’ It was a subtle comment, but relaxed me before I had to play against the defending champion Dallas Stars. I played a solid game, we won 2-1; it was one of those days where I don’t remember what happened in the game. It was so crazy and I’ve played so many games between now and then, but I remember little things like that. At the end of the game — the excitement of having your first NHL win was incredible. Then we had a huge snowstorm, so the next day we got snowed in and didn’t have practice; so I got to sleep in and enjoy the first win a little bit more! A couple of days later we played Philadelphia and tied 1-1, so I had a really good week my first week in the NHL.”

DR: Do you have the puck from that first win?

MB: “I do. It’s at my parents’ place right now on a plaque in the basement. I’ve got a picture that my sister-in-law got me in a frame, and it’s engraved: first NHL win, Dallas 1, Buffalo 2 with the date. It’s kind of funny because I have my arms up and I’m on one leg celebrating the win (smiles).”

DR: What are your memories from the day you were drafted?

MB: “It was so exciting. It was in Edmonton in 1995, there was a lot of excitement in not knowing where you were going to be drafted. Was I going to go in the first round or not? I had talked to a lot of teams, but funny enough I hadn’t talked to Buffalo at all. Four picks before Buffalo was to pick made a trade — they traded (Alexander) Mogilny to Vancouver and in exchange they got (Mike) Peca and an extra first round pick. They picked Jay McKee with that pick and then about three picks later it was their time again and I was sitting there and saw the NHL people coming over to my section, cameras starting to get ready; I kind of had an idea that they may take me with that second, first round pick. I heard my name and when I went on stage I remember posing with the team’s personnel, just standing there and one of the guys said to me ‘You can wave to the crowd.’ I kind of just waved my hand and was shy, didn’t know what to do really. It was a very fun day — my whole family was there, it was a lot of excitement.”

DR: Do you have a best friend in the NHL?

MB: “Yeah, me being a goalie it’s kind of funny because a lot of guys are usually good friends with their D-partner or their linemate; for me as a goalie, you play with so many guys and you get to be good friends with your goaltending partner. Over the years I’ve gotten to be really good friends with JP Dumont, in Buffalo we were roommates together. I am really, really good friends with Danny Briere, we were roommates together in Buffalo after JP left for Nashville and then we played together in Philly for a couple of years. Some of the guys I have played with I stay close with in the summer like Jay McKee, Michael Peca — those are guys that in the summertime in Buffalo we do the family thing, going out together and always keep in touch; text or talk once in a while during the year. Those are probably the closest group of friends I have around the league right now.

DR: Do you have a favorite sport other than hockey?

MB: “I do, I’m a big golf fan; I like to play, but I don’t play as much as I used to. My little guy is six now and he wants to play, so it’s fun. We go to the range and go to the course a little bit. I love baseball; I’ve always been a big fan of the game. I loved it growing up; I still play slo-pitch during the summer. That’s so much fun during a nice summer day. I’d say those are my two top sports outside of hockey.”

DR: What’s your favorite movie?

MB: “Movies kind of change, they come and go. It depends on what kind of mood you catch me in. One of my favorite movies would be The Negotiator with Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey. Every time that movie is on I get drawn to it, I like the excitement of it and the mental aspect of it; I think it’s a really well done movie. It’s one of those you pop into the DVD player once in a while just to watch it again.”

DR: What’s your favorite TV show?

MB: “I love The Office, my wife and I watch it all the time. Now she’s gotten me into Modern Family, that show is so funny; definitely one of my favorites. Another one that I like is Entourage, I got to meet the guy that plays E (Kevin Connolly) being in Long Island last year and he’s a huge Islanders’ fan. It’s kind of fun when you get to meet somebody and see them on the TV. Those are my favorite TV shows right now.”

DR: Typically, what do you bring on a road trip?

MB: “Typically I bring my iPad, my Kindle and I will bring a change of clothes depending on how long the trip is. My iPhone, my iPad, my Kindle are usually the things that I bring with me everywhere. I never liked to read much, and my wife got me a Kindle a few years back and now I’ve read so many books on that thing. I don’t know, I’m just a gadgety kind of guy, so I think that thing is kind of cool. I always have that with me and I always carry my Bible with me, we are a Christian family and with the kids; it’s always something I like to go back to. Those are the things that always stay in my bag and the rest of the things, they change around depending where we go and how long I am gone for.”

I hope everyone enjoyed learning about Martin Biron and if there is a player you’d like to read about in a future column or have a question you’d like to see a player asked, let me know:

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

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.

Game 3/Game 4 …

Here’s how I saw Game 3 of the New Jersey Devils-Philadelphia Flyers series and what I expect for Game 4 on Tuesday night:

Game 3:
-Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk had two assists, but no shots on goal (!) & led the team in ice-time with 27:30.
-New Jersey sat defenseman Martin Skoula (who had a shaky 1st 2 games) in favor of rookie Mark Fraser and the move didn’t work; Fraser was responsible for Philly’s second goal when he allowed Simon Gagne to muscle him off the puck behind the net. Coach Jacques Lemaire said after the game that Skoula will return to the lineup in Game 4.
-With the loss, the Devils are now 0-4 in the Wachovia Center this season and Martin Brodeur hasn’t won a game there since January 22, 2008.
-With the loss coming in overtime, Brodeur’s career record is 12-21 in playoff overtime; the most OT losses in NHL history.
-Flyers captain Mike Richards has six points (2g,4a) in three games; Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner has only one assist in the first three games. Just saying maybe Jamie should have played that night in Carolina, because he hasn’t been the same since.
-Philly’s duo of Daniel Briere and Jeff Carter have fired a combined 19 shots on Brodeur over the first three games and have a total of 0 points in the series.
-Game 3 Hero: Dan Carcillo, right place +right time = OT winner
-Game 3 Goat: David Clarkson, no matter how lame the penalty was, it never should have happened; ESPECIALLY IN OVERTIME!
-Devils wasted a solid performance by Brodeur (31 saves), but they can tie the series with a win Tuesday night.

Game 4
-Expect better games from Patrik Elias and Zach Parise, who weren’t really a factor in Game 3 where New Jersey only mustered 19 shots on goal; they both responded with great Game 2’s after sub-par Game 1’s.
-Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger will lead his team in ice-time and will probably get at least one point.
-Look for Devils defenseman Paul Martin and Philly winger Scott Hartnell to have an impact in Game 4, Martin will assist on the game-winning goal.

Devils-Flyers Preview

The New Jersey Devils will square off against their division-rivals the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning on Wednesday night at Prudential Center. The two teams have met three prior times in the postseason: New Jersey beat Philadelphia in the 1995 (six games) and 2000 Eastern Conference Finals (seven games) and the Flyers bested the Devils in five games in 2004’s opening round.

This past season, Philly dominated the Devils during the six-game season series with a 5-1 edge (outscoring them 20-13), but struggled to make the postseason — qualifying on the season’s final day. “For us it means nothing, for them it means everything; that’s the way you look at those things,” said New Jersey captain Jamie Langenbrunner of the one-sided season series. “They obviously had our number during the regular season, they did things that took us off our game — we’re going to have to address that, we’re going to have to understand the way they play and play accordingly.

Offense: Both teams are filled with goal-scorers who can get hot and carry their teams to a series win. New Jersey’s top two lines will contain any combination of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Langenbrunner, Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk and Dainius Zubrus, while Philadelphia will roll out the likes of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Simon Gagne and Claude Giroux. Both teams also have valuable grinders who could turn out to be the unsung heroes in this series – look for David Clarkson (Devils) and Ian Laperierre (Flyers) to both have an impact at some point during the series.

Edge: Even. As I stated, both teams have some serious firepower when clicking on all cylinders so it will be interesting to see which team (if any) struggles to find their goal scoring touch.

Defense: The Devils have played with a so-called ‘no-name’ defense corps since Brian Rafalski departed for Detroit, but this season they allowed the fewest goals in the entire NHL (191) and they did while their best defenseman (Paul Martin) missed 59 games. The Flyers have a collection of nasty blueliners (Chris Pronger, Braydon Coburn) and talented (Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle) that are all tough to play against. “It’s going to be tough, it doesn’t matter who you play; it’s going to be a tough series,” said Clarkson after learning his Devils would tangle with the Flyers. “A team like that, you know you’re going into war and that’s what we’re going to do in here. We’re going to play team hockey, play great defensively and give everything we have every night.”

The biggest questions facing each squad will be what kind of impact will Andy Greene and Martin Skoula have for New Jersey and will Pronger be able to stay out of the penalty box for the Flyers.

Edge: Philly. Even if the Devils survive this round, chances are that Parise, Kovalchuk and Elias may be worn down from having to deal with Pronger for possibly seven games.

Goaltending: Martin Brodeur and Brian Boucher last met in the playoffs in 2000 when the Devils rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat Boucher and the Flyers at Philadelphia in Game 7. Since then Brodeur has appeared in 92 playoff contests and Boucher has only been in four. Brodeur comes into the series maybe as hot as he’s ever been to close a regular season — surrendering only seven goals over seven games, including back-to-back shutouts. Boucher (4-6-1 in last eleven starts) is basically the only goalie left standing in Philly’s crease after injuries to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton, so if he goes down the Flyers will be in deep trouble.

Edge: New Jersey. Brodeur is hot and Boucher, despite winning two of the final three games, is not.

Intangibles: The Flyers come into the series with the NHL’s third best power play (21.5%) and their penalty killers ranked 11th (83.0%). The Devils finished 11th on the PP (18.7%) and the least-penalized team in the league finished 13th on the PK (82.8%). Both coaches — Jacques Lemaire (1995 with NJ) and Peter Laviolette (2006 with Carolina) — have won a Stanley Cup, so they both know what it is going to take to guide their teams to the where they want to be. New Jersey has more experience as far as rings go, but Philadelphia has had more recent success during the postseason.

Edge: Even. The specialty teams will be a wash, but if the Flyers take reckless penalties (as they are known to do) the Devils will have to capitalize to take control of the series.

Prediction: New Jersey in 6. This will be a hard-hitting, nasty series that will leave many players on both sides battered and bruised. “It’s going to be very intense games. I know it’s a big rivalry and the rivalry is going to continue,” said Kovalchuk. I believe Brodeur will steal a game (for the first time since ‘03) in Philly and avoid sending the series back to the Rock for a Game 7.

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