Back to Reality, Uninspired Devils Fall to Predators

Nashville 3                      Devils 1

All the good feelings and the good vibes that the New Jersey Devils had, coming off a 3-0 shutout of Phoenix on Wednesday, vanished on Friday night when they could only muster 16 shots on goal during a lifeless 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators  at the Prudential Center. “It’s unacceptable,” lamented Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk after the game. “I don’t know what happened; we can’t play like that. Especially in our home building.” The Preds won their fifth game in a row behind the two power play goals scored by Martin Erat and the 15-save performance of rookie netminder Anders Lindback.

New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur only faced 20 shots himself, but he surrendered a goal in each period, each seeming to come at the most crucial of times; his record is now a very unBrodeurlike 5-13-1. Ex-Devil Steve Sullivan started the scoring late in the first period when deflected Shea Weber’s shot off of Brodeur and into the net for his ninth goal of the season with 16.3 seconds left in the period.

Erat beat Brodeur with a laser-like wrist shot 4:56 into the second period and then made it 3-0 in favor of Nashville when he scored on a deflection 4:55 into the third period. Devils rookie Mattias Tedenby, the only player on the team that played with energy, spoiled the shutout for Lindback just over two minutes later when he scored a power play marker. Travis Zajac nearly cut the Predators’ lead to one two minutes after Tedenby’s goal, but Lindback made the save, extinguishing any comeback thoughts the Devils might’ve had. “Nine shots through two periods is not enough,” said New Jersey captain Jamie Langenbrunner after their sixth loss in seven games.

Game Notes: Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter led all skaters in ice-time with 28:19 and he had two assists; Kovalchuk led New Jersey in ice-time with 25:33 and had an assist. The Predators now have points in ten straight games (8-0-2). Erat scored on his only two shots and won all four face-offs he took; Weber registered two assists. Both teams are back in action on Saturday night — New Jersey (9-20-2) plays at Atlanta (17-11-5) and Nashville (17-8-6) returns home to play Los Angeles (17-11-1).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:
#1 — Martin Erat (Nsh) — 2 pp goals (5)
#2 — Shea Weber (Nsh) — 2 assists (10)
#3 — Ryan Suter (Nsh) — 2 assists (11)

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

Koval-Choke Becomes Koval-Clutch!

Devils 4 Edmonton 3           overtime

In the span of 48 hours, Ilya Kovalchuk experienced first hand why so many people love sports — the agony of heart-breaking losses, and the thrill of dramatic, heart-stopping victories. On Wednesday night when his New Jersey Devils lost to the Buffalo Sabres, Kovalchuk never got to take his shootout attempt because the puck jumped off of his stick blade as he was stickhandling — sending him to the locker room frustrated and embarrassed.

After a solid day of practice, he was ready to move on, “It’s all history. Today the sun is up and everything is good,” Kovalchuk said on Thursday with a fresh outlook. “Tomorrow we have to win because we don’t have a win at home yet; that’s embarrassing.”

Friday night at Prudential Center it was Kovalchuk who accomplished that mission when he scored the winning goal — in overtime, capping a rally that saw New Jersey get off the mat after falling behind 3-1 to the young Edmonton Oilers. Throughout the game the Russian sniper had a handful of shots that never reached the net and entering overtime, he had still yet to register a shot on goal.

Despite only having scored three goals in fifteen games and despite all of his recent lack of puck-luck, he continued to work hard and 2:15 into the five-minute o.t. he drew a penalty on Edmonton’s Dustin Penner who tripped him at center ice along the boards. The Devils coach, John MacLean, called a timeout and before a minute had elapsed in Penner’s penalty, Kovalchuk had won the game with a rocket shot past Oilers’ goalie Devan Dubnyk from the left circle. “It feels good. But we’re still, I don’t know, 14th or 15th in our conference,” said Kovalchuk, “which is not where we want to be.”

Before the game was ten minutes old, New Jersey found themselves down by two goals — thanks in large part to Edmonton’s Colin Fraser, who scored both. The Devils continued to fire shots at Dubnyk and 5:57 after Fraser’s second tally, rookie Alexander Vasyunov took a pass from Travis Zajac and scored his first career NHL goal on a nice redirection in front of the crease.

Sam Gagner restored the two-goal bulge for the Oilers when he scored on a rebound 5:11 into the second period, silencing the crowd at the Rock who came hoping to see the first home win of the season. The next ten minutes were frustrating for New Jersey as they fired shot after shot at Dubnyk and had nothing to show for it until Brian Rolston finally scored with 3:08 left in the period. On the scoring play, David Clarkson’s wraparound attempt was denied but the loose puck came right to Rolston who was standing in the blue paint of the crease. “It was just a good play, a hard-working shift by our whole line. Clarkie came around the net, wrapped the puck and I just got the rebound,” explained Rolston, “I was basically on top of the goalie so I didn’t have to shovel it too far.”

With 15:31 left in the third period rookie Mattias Tedenby (playing in his second NHL game) thought he had scored his first career goal, but was robbed by Dubnyk’s sharp glove hand. The 20-year old Swede finally got his first career goal when he tied the game with 9:00 left on the power play. Andy Greene fired a shot from the blueline that Tedenby deflected from the slot and under the Edmonton netminder. “I think it hit my (stick) blade,” said the diminutive rookie after the game. “It felt very good when I scored out there.”

Kovalchuk was able to complete the comeback for the Devils in overtime and for the second game in a row they scored four goals — perhaps a sign that they are coming out of their season-long collective slumps. “Obviously it was big,’ said Patrik Elias (2 assists) after the game. “I’m pretty sure he’s relieved and it was a big goal for all of us.” Kovalchuk concurred, adding, “We never gave up, it was a great team effort and a great comeback; we’re definitely going to build on this.”

Game Notes: Kovalchuk now has eleven career overtime goals, which ranks third in NHL history; his teammate Elias is tied for first all-time with 15. Rolston returned to the lineup after missing 14 games due to a sports hernia. Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney led all players with five blocked shots, led all skaters with 30:26 of ice-time and he also chipped in with two assists; Greene led the Devils in ice-time with 27:39. Elias led all players with six shots on goal, while Edmonton rookie Taylor Hall (last June’s no. 1 overall draft pick) led his team with five. Both captains didn’t play in the game due to injury — New Jersey’s Jamie Langenbrunner (soreness) and Edmonton’s Shawn Horcoff (thigh bruise). Fraser’s two goals were the first two of the season for him. New Jersey (5-10-2) is off until Monday when they play at Boston (8-4-1) while Edmonton (4-8-3) next plays Sunday afternoon at MSG against New York (8-7-1).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – gw/pp goal (4)

#2 – Colin Fraser (Edm) – 2 goals (2)

#3 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – 2 assists (9)

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

JL 15

The captain of the New Jersey Devils, Jamie Langenbrunner (he also was the captain of Team USA in the Winter Olympics) has launched his own website coinciding with the new season. The Devils now have three players (that we know of) with their own sites…I bet Kovy17 isn’t far behind!!

Jamie’s site: http://www.jl15.com/

Martin Brodeur’s site: http://www.martinbrodeur30.com/

Patrik Elias’ site: http://eliaspatrik.com/en/

The Waiting is Over…

After 65 days of being held hostage….yes 65…. the Ilya Kovalchuk saga is over. The NHL finally approved Kovalchuk’s 15 year, $100 million dollar deal with the New Jersey Devils and the rest of the hockey world can now move on with their lives. Personally, I was finally able to wear my ‘Kovalchuk 17’ t-shirt that I purchased after he signed the first contract that was rejected by the league and then rejected again by an independent arbitrator.

So what’s next for the Devils? Kovy’s deal puts them about $3 million over the salary cap limit with only 21 of 23 players on their roster, meaning they will have to shed at least two contracts (perhaps Bryce Salvador and Dainius Zubrus) and sign some other players to small money contracts to fill out the roster. By the way, has anyone else noticed that on the Devils official website that Jay Pandolfo is no longer listed on the team’s roster? Other candidates to be moved include Colin White and Brian Rolston, but both have no-trade clauses in their contracts and both are undesirable to other teams as of this moment. If Salvador is moved, I would expect them to bring defenseman Mike Mottau back on a one-year, cheapie deal. If Zubrus is shipped out, expect the team to add some depth by signing a solid veteran such as Richard Park, Brendan Morrison or Jeff Halpern.

With the players they have under contract now, assuming Salvador & or Zubrus are moved, here is what the opening night lineup could look like:

Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Jamie Langenbrunner
Ilya Kovalchuk-Jason Arnott-David Clarkson
Patrik Elias-Brian Rolston-Vladimir Zharkov
Pierre-Luc Leblond-Richard Park-Mattias Tedenby

Anton Volchenkov-Andy Greene
Henrik Tallinder-Anssi Salmela
Colin White-Mark Fraser

Martin Brodeur-Johan Hedberg

spares: Mike Mottau?, Rod Pelley, Tim Sestito

Who are the teams left that can afford to add a contract like Salvador ($2.9 million) or Zubrus ($3.4 million) this late in the summer?
The Islanders, Thrashers, Blues, Hurricanes, Coyotes, Panthers, Lightning, Stars, Ducks, Predators & Kings all have $9 million or more in cap space.
Time will tell how GM Lou Lamoriello is going to shape and mold his 2010-11 roster and all we can do is sit back and wait; this time it won’t be 65 days because training camp starts for New Jersey on September 17, but they don’t have to be under the salary cap until October 8.

How do you feel now that the second best goal-scorer in the NHL will be a Devil for the next 15 seasons?

Should He Stay or Should He Go…

It’s been almost two weeks since the New Jersey Devils 2009-10 season came to a crashing halt at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. Three days after their elimination, coach Jacques Lemaire announced his retirement forcing the team to search for it’s sixth head coach in six seasons since the lockout ended. Three consecutive first round exits, haven’t made it past the second round since winning the 2003 Stanley Cup.

After having time to digest all of this I’ve come up with some suggestions on how to improve the team and hopefully help them (at least) make it out of the opening round of the playoffs. All salaries I used are courtesy of nhlnumbers.com.

Coach: Hire Mike Keenan. The ex-Ranger coach, (more recently ex-Calgary) would seem like an odd choice at first glance, but he knows how to win and he could work well together with another crafty mind like GM Lou Lamoriello. His first task will be convincing Brodeur to play less games, oh and his career total of 672 wins is good for 4th all-time.

Trade: Jamie Langenbrunner, Mark Fraser (and/or) Andy Greene to Toronto for Tomas Kaberle. Perhaps Lamoriello can convince Leafs GM Brian Burke that he can use a Langenbrunner to lead his young team in 2010-11 as he led Burke’s Team USA to a silver medal. Kaberle has one year left on his current deal at $4.25 mil, so to make it fair salary-wise Lamoriello may have to surrender both Greene and Fraser; Langenbrunner is due $2.8 mil and will also be going into the last year of his contract. Perhaps Kaberle will waive his no-trade clause to skate with fellow Czech Patrik Elias.

Trade: Before the draft call your old trading partner Don Waddell from Atlanta and offer him RFA David Clarkson ($875,000) for soon-to-be UFA Colby Armstrong ($2.4 mil). Maybe he still wasn’t 100% from the leg injury, but Clarkson was invisible versus the Flyers; Armstrong will be a player that plays hard every shift and in front of the opposing goalie he will be a pain in the @$$, something Clarkson has failed to do in each of the last two postseasons. See if Waddell has any interest or room for Jay Pandolfo also, who could help stabilize a young squad.

Free Agency: Let Paul Martin, Mike Mottau, Rob Niedermayer, Rod Pelley and Martin Skoula walk away. Changes have to be made and most of these players were very serviceable, the ultimate results just weren’t there.

Do whatever you have to do to re-sign Ilya Kovalchuk. Quick name another first overall pick that has played for the Devils. Stumped, well as far as I know there is only one other– Bobby Carpenter — and he wasn’t nearly as dynamic as Kovalchuk is. Hopefully Ilya sticks around, but who am I kidding, there’s no way he’ll stay in New Jersey right?

Sign Free Agents : Tomas Plekanec, Marek Svatos and either Andy Sutton or Anton Volchenkov. Plekanec is the center that the Devils have been lacking since Scott Gomez took the money and ran to Manhattan, leaving Travis Zajac as the team’s only legitimate scoring center. Svatos is a talented, scrappy, underachieving winger from Colorado who could fit in on a solid third/fourth line. Either Sutton or Volchenkov won’t come cheap, but they are both worth the money that will be spent on them. They both block shots well, get in shooting lanes and aren’t afraid to get into scrums to protect the front of their crease — a huge lacking element in NJ the last three playoff failures. Both players also have the same downside too — they are both injury prone, so teams may end up being hesitant to throw major cash around.

There’s a saying ‘scared money makes no money’ so I say the Devils need to revamp the current edition to make it look something like this:

Line A: Ilya Kovalchuk-Tomas Plekanec-Patrik Elias
Line B: Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Dainius Zubrus
Line C: Brian Rolston-Colby Armstrong-Marek Svatos
Line D: Pierre-Luc Leblond-Tim Sestito/Dean McAmmond-Vladimir Zharkov

D-pair 1: Tomas Kaberle-Anton Volchenkov/Andy Sutton
D-pair 2: Matthew Corrente-Bryce Salvador
D-pair 3: Colin White-Anssi Salmela/Tyler Eckford

Goalies: Martin Brodeur, Yann Danis

I know I’ve made some crazy suggestions here, and I have no doubt that I’ll probably be 0.00% right, but hopefully some changes are made so I’m not sitting home watching less-superior teams battle for a chance to get steamrolled next season. Let me know how insane this all sounded, Thanx.

Dan

Devils-Flyers Postgame Quotes [04.22.10]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after the Devils 3-0 Game 5 loss to the Flyers:

Andy Greene:

Can you put your finger on any one thing that went wrong during the series?

“It’s never just one thing when you get beat like that; it’s a combination of things. 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.”

The Flyers dominated you all season, beating you in 9 of 11 games this year, can you explain why?

“No, I don’t know; it’s just one of those match-ups. Like you said, for some reason they did and continued to these last two weeks.”

How disappointing is it to come into a must-win game and you can’t get a goal past Brian Boucher?

“It’s frustrating, we had good chances but we didn’t get one.”

Martin Brodeur:

Talking about the Flyers…

“They competed the whole way through, you have to really give them a lot of credit; even though we have to look at ourselves, that’s for sure, but you can’t overlook what they did.”

When you notice the way that they’re playing, in contrast was there something missing from your side?

“Well obviously; I think the urgency, the desperation. We had it in parts of games, but never full games and that came to haunt us. You look at just the second goal, it’s just a one-on-one and we blocked the shot and the next thing you know everybody collapsed and it’s a shot where two guys, my players, screened me and it went in. These things, in the playoffs, usually don’t happen; you fight through them to get a block or do something. It wasn’t in the cards for us this time around.”

The last two years it’s been the same thing pretty much, are the demons still there?

“Well, again, we’re not doing anything to give ourselves a chance to be successful. This playoff series, all throughout, it was tough; it’s bounces. When you don’t get bounces you have to find a way to get them; I think losing in overtime — that was the killer for us.”

How do you look back on 2010, with reaching 600 wins, the Olympics and now this?

“I don’t know, I guess up and down. The regular season has been pretty good, had a great experience in Vancouver; regardless of me not playing. It’s pretty tough to do, for 12 years in a row to be on top of Canada playing goal; sometimes someone might be better and that’s okay with me. I had a great, great time over there; I took my time to rest and I think it paid off for me in the last stretch of the season. Again, it’s all about playoffs — there will be 29 teams feeling exactly the way I’m feeling right now. 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.”

Colin White:

Did the early goal just crumble all of your hope?

“No it doesn’t, you’re chasing again, but at the same time, no there’s a lot of hockey to still be played. To win a game you have to score at least one, so one goal really doesn’t matter.”

Are you shocked by the early exit?

“Obviously yeah; it sucks.”

Do you think you had a team that could go deep? I know it’s only been a few minutes, but do you think the team maybe wasn’t as good as you thought?

“You know what I can’t pinpoint one thing; 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.”

What do you think the turning point of the series was?

“Like I said, I can’t pinpoint one thing; we aren’t happy with our performance. That’s the bottom line right now, I don’t make up excuses or reasons why, we just didn’t get it done.”

Peter Laviolette:

What decided the series primarily?

“It’s hard just to say one thing. I thought our PK was real good; we had to use it quite a bit. I liked the way we played 5-on-5; it seemed like it was broken up because there were so many penalties, but I liked what we did 5-on-5 defensively and offensively. I thought our goaltender played extremely well.”

How surprised are you, if surprised at all with the way Boucher played?

“I don’t think we’re that surprised about anything with our game down the stretch, including Boucher. I’ve said it before that in order to get to this position to play in the first round we had to play really well down the stretch; there was a lot of games where I thought he and the team played extremely well. We’ve been in playoff-mode for a long-time, a long time. A month really, then we kind of lost our way a little bit and came back in the last two weeks and had to grind out everything that we did. That prepared us probably a little bit.”

Claude Giroux’s game tonight and his play in the series…

“He had a terrific game. We talked to him this morning, I remember back two months ago, we were talking and he told me that he wanted responsibility; we revisited that conversation this morning with some veterans out of the lineup now. I thought that he responded with a tremendous game, in a big situation — he was a very, very good player for us.”

Can you talk about some of the sacrifices that your team made during this series?

“The amount of shots that we blocked in the series and the guys – I’ll guarantee that Lappy (Ian Laperierre) would have been back on the bench if they had been able to get him stitched up in time. He and (Blair) Betts, all of them, but he and Betts do such a tremendous job; they’re the front line in all of those blocks, (Mike) Richards, (Simon) Gagne. Really I said this before, we’ve been successful because our team is committed to it, it’s been a group that’s shown a lot of heart and a lot of character — to get into the playoffs — and then to get through this first round against a very good New Jersey team and those are examples of it.”

This team was fragile mentally earlier this season, but now it seems like nothing fazes them, what changed?

“There was ups and downs, a lot of things went on with the Flyers this year; even when I first got here we went right down to 14th in the conference, so it was an uphill grind and a battle. You lose some goaltenders along the way, you lose some people along the way, we lost our way a little bit at times. But there was a time from before Christmas right up until the time we had lost a couple of key figures in our lineup, where we were probably one of the top two or three teams in the league — for over a two-and-a-half, three-month stretch – we were playing really well. Then we lost (Jeff) Carter, (Michael) Leighton went down and Boosh came in — once he found his game he seemed to get back on track; and he hadn’t played in a while. You have to give him a lot of credit because he hung in there and has played extremely well. Tonight he looked extremely confident in net, like it wasn’t a question; he was in charge of his crease, he was in charge of the puck and I think eventually we found our way, after the first Carter injury. Our team dug in and started to play better hockey down the stretch; we won some big games and carried that into the playoffs.”

Jacques Lemaire:

Can you sum up your feelings about what happened?

“It’s frustrating not to be, in the next few days back on the ice, playing. I felt that we could have played better; we did not play playoff-hockey. Philly did a lot better job in that department. It is a little frustrating because all along I thought that we had a good team; I didn’t see this team play at their best. I don’t think I’ve seen this team play at their best yet for a period of time — a game here and there but not sustain it.”

Brodeur alluded to something like that; do you think there are players who let you down?

“Did the players let me down? I know some of the guys they give their heart, they played really hard the whole way; so I’m looking more at these players.”

You said that you thought the team wasn’t consistent, what can you point to as a reason why?

“I think it’s what we’ve been asking, we’ve been asking certain things and it seems it wasn’t done; something else was done. It’s like the PP as an example, we had before the game a certain way to do when you get the puck at the blue line, and we had a few PP’s, we had a few — quite a few. We did it once, at a time I asked a player why are we not doing it? And there was no answer.”

Is it frustrating coming into an elimination game and your team can’t score a goal?

“Especially on the PP; I think we had good chances, we moved the puck well. We didn’t get any bounces, everyone could see that. All along the series, the PP we moved the puck well but couldn’t score and I think today was the closest ones that we could get a goal; and we didn’t. Because the bounces, puck doesn’t go the right way, we miss the open net, things like that. But that happens when you don’t have everyone believing in what you have to do to win; that will happen.”

I know you weren’t here the last two years, but do you think this team can’t reach that level of playoff-hockey to get out of Round 1?

“I can’t speak for the past years, this year I mentioned 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.”

Your captain was very unproductive, what are your thoughts about the way he led the team; he didn’t seem to be inspiring?

“From your view, because you’re outside; I think Jamie (Langenbrunner) is doing a lot of things inside with the guys that even us coaches are not aware of. He’s been a good captain, from day one, so I don’t know why he would turn the other way.”

How much do you want Ilya Kovalchuk back?

“He’s a big piece of this club, you can see what he does — he’s a threat every time he’s on the ice. This will be up to Lou (Lamoriello) and him as far as what they want to do.”

He said he was very enthused about what he learned from you, he was very happy and said he wanted to come back…

“I like to hear that.”

Were the Flyers better than a 7-seed?

“There was what seven games, seven wins difference between them and us during the season. Both teams had a lot of injuries and seven games out of 82 is not a lot. You look at all of the playoffs (series) the difference is very thin; you only have one or two teams that is supposed to be up top and you could see — look at Washington when the playoff started, they had some questions. San Jose is exactly the same thing, and they’re the top two teams — and not by seven games, by more than that.”

Last year at this time you weren’t coaching, after this is this where you want to be?

“This is something I’ve been doing for a long time and I enjoy to be around the players, try to make them play as well as they can play; try to find ways to make them play as a team. It’s a great life that’s why I love it.”

You said they didn’t play playoff-hockey, were you surprised or did you see this coming?

“Not the first game, not the second game, but there were still things that we weren’t doing in these two (games). I thought as we went on we would correct that, and we didn’t. 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.”

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.