Eriksson & Stars Spoil Opener, Beat Devils in OT

Dallas 4          Devils 3   — overtime

The New Jersey Devils lost their season and home opener on Friday night, falling 4-3 in overtime to the Dallas Stars. Loui Eriksson was the hero for Dallas (who rallied from a two-goal deficit) with two goals – including the game-winner in overtime that sent the sold-out crowd at the Prudential Center home unhappy. “It was fun game to play in,” said Martin Brodeur who made 24 saves in defeat. “It was disappointing to not get a win for the fans because they supported us real well. It was playoff hockey out there, it’s the first game, there’s a lot of excitement building up for the opener and it was fun to be a part of it.” The Devils led 2-0 just 7:13 into the match, but Stars coach Marc Crawford used his timeout to settle his team down and the move paid off.

New Jersey’s new top line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise started the new season with a bang scoring the first two goals of what is expected to be a successful campaign for the trio. Zajac and the 100-million dollar man (Kovalchuk) worked a nifty give-and-go before Zajac’s soft shot slid under Stars’ netminder Kari Lehtonen’s pads for a 1-0 Devils lead 2:45 into the first period. “We came up the ice on a 3-on-2 and Kovy made a good pass to me in the middle,” explained Zajac. “I kind of fanned on the shot or it got tipped or something and I got lucky and the puck got through the goalie.”

Minutes later when Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric stumbled in the neutral zone, Kovalchuk and Parise had a 2-on-1 and quickly extended the lead to 2-0. On the scoring play, Parise patiently held the puck on his stick as Trevor Daley dove to the ice to take away the passing lane. But the defenseman’s momentum carried him into the crease, essentially negating Lehtonen and allowing Parise to easily score with a wrist shot into the gaping net. “I was originally going to try and pass it back to Kovy,” said Parise, “I kind of picked my head up and saw that Lehtonen was down and out so I had some net to shoot at.”

Just over four minutes after Parise’s tally, Dallas’ captain Brenden Morrow gave his team some life when he rifled a one-timer past Brodeur after a nice pass from Mike Ribeiro. After one period both teams had fired eleven shots on goal.

Eriksson tied the game 3:02 into the second period, pouncing on a loose puck at the edge of the crease and flipping it over Brodeur’s outstretched arms along the ice. The Stars controlled most of the play during the period but fell behind when the Devils converted on what would turn out to be their only power play of the night. Jason Arnott, playing his first game in a Devils uniform since 2002, blasted a long slap shot past Lehtonen’s stick side at 10:22, to give New Jersey a 3-2 lead.

That lead was short-lived as the Stars tied the game again 1:16 later when Brad Richards flicked a shot past Brodeur for his 31st point (5g-26a) in 32 career games against the Devils, converting a pass from James Neal who was behind the cage. Dallas out-shot New Jersey 12-5 in the period. “I thought we played well in different parts of the ice,” said Brodeur. “Defensively I thought we did a good job, just little turnovers here and there that were not really necessary and they capitalized on it.”

Neither team budged in what was a fast-paced, exciting third period – featuring almost ten consecutive minutes of uninterrupted hockey; very reminiscent of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final overtimes that the two franchises collided in that spring. Despite out-shooting the Stars 13-4, the Devils were unable to muster up any more offense as the game moved into overtime.

It took only 1:36 to end the game as Eriksson scored unassisted on a 2-on-1, snapping an accurate wrist shot past Brodeur’s glove hand. “It was a tough shot, a tough play for everybody. It’s pretty rare that we practice that — a 2-on-1 from their zone — the guy had lots of time,” Brodeur said. “I think Richards was well covered and it became almost like a breakaway; he was able to pick a corner.”

The Devils did gain a point in the standings, which means the performance wasn’t a total waste. “I thought we competed really hard,” coach John MacLean said afterwards. “As I said to the guys before the game, it’s the little things that kind of make the difference and unfortunately we paid. But you know what? The work ethic was there. We had some chances, but also little mistakes were made. They’re all correctable. We’ll just keep plugging.”

Up next for New Jersey is a game in DC Saturday night against the Washington Ovechkins and then a late afternoon tilt with the Pittsburgh Crosbys on Monday at the Rock. “Hopefully it will get easier later,” Brodeur said with a chuckle. “That’s the way it goes usually. But it’s pretty rare that we start (the season) with so many games, like six games in ten days. Usually we trail teams by three games after the first week in games played, so this will be a little different look; we just have to get going quicker.”

Game Notes: With New Jersey needing to make a move by the end of the month to get under the NHL salary cap, the proverbial sharks are circling in the water as there were 12 teams represented with scouts at the game on Friday night: NY Islanders, Philadelphia, Detroit, Florida, Calgary, Nashville, Chicago, Phoenix, Colorado, Anaheim, Vancouver & Ottawa. For the Devils defensemen Alexander Urbom and Matt Taormina made their NHL debuts. Zajac has eight points (4g-4a) in seven career games versus Dallas; Arnott played in his 1,100th NHL game. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 23:27 and Stephane Robidas led the Stars with 22:42. Arnott and Benn led all players with five shots on goal each. The Stars won the face-off battle by a 24-15 margin. This game was the first time that Dallas started a season without anyone from their 1999 Stanley Cup winning team on their active 23-man roster.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Loui Eriksson (Dall) – 2 goals, gw (2)

#2 – Travis Zajac (NJ) – goal (1), assist (1)

#3 – Brad Richards (Dall) – goal (1), assist (1)

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

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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.

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.

Devils-Hurricanes Postgame Quotes [12.09.09]

Here are some of the postgame quotes after Wednesday’s 4-2  win by the Devils over the Hurricanes:

Zach Parise:

Describing Andy Greene’s power play goal that he assisted on…

“Andy pretty much did it all; he made a nice break in and their guy kind of backed off of me and let me take it to the net. I tried to shoot low blocker and it went right over to Andy.”

Are these Hurricanes any different than the team that you lost to in the playoffs last spring, despite their record?

“I think it’s the same team. For whatever reason they’ve struggled, but they’ve still got good players. I think they’re a lot better than their record says — that’s a good team over there.”

Johnny Oduya:

You blocked a lot of shots tonight (4) can you talk about that a little?

“Did I?”

You had at least four through two periods, including one where Marty was out of position and you went down to one knee…

“Well, that one I was a little bit out of position and it was my guy that was wide I think; I had to make a choice and got caught a little bit in between. I don’t know, I think I got lucky and his shot caught me because it was pretty much an open net.”

Carolina has a pretty bad record right now (7-18-5), do you notice anything different about them from last year’s playoffs?

“Well they have a couple of guys out; I always think they’ve been a good team. I know last year at times they were struggling a little bit too before they got it going at the end of the year. They’re one of those teams that, maybe, they get up a little bit more for the playoffs. They’re a pretty experienced team, playoff-wise too, once we get further along in the season, I think they’re going to start playing better. Obviously they’ve had a tough start, but I think they’ll come around.”

When Bryce Salvador went down at the end of the first period and misses part of the second, the d-pairings get changed up a little bit, how much does that affect you?

“I think (on this team) anyone can play with anyone; everybody can play both sides too. I don’t think that’s a problem, I think it’s more of just knowing who you are out (on the ice) with and their type of game, but we still play the same system and play a team-game, a defensive-game.”

Martin Brodeur:

Talking about Andy Greene…

“I don’t think there’s a doubt in anybody’s mind that he belongs in the NHL.”

Can you believe that at one point this season you had to answer questions about not winning at home and now you’ve won eight of ten here at the Rock?

“It’s always tough, because as reporters, and even coaches and players, you take an 82-game season and you shrink it down to little streaks. But when you look at the grand scheme of things, it’s a lot different; you don’t see these bumps as much. But when you’re going through them, we had a hard time in the first three games (here). We got over it and now we’re doing well and we have to try to keep that up. It’s like a goalie that has a couple of tough games, next thing you know, its tough but when you really look at it; when you get older you realize that the big picture is what’s important. I know its important the day you have to play, but right now we’re happy about the way everybody is contributing for us to be successful at home. It is important, you play to be the top team — that gives you the home-ice advantage — so if you’re not comfortable playing there, it doesn’t make sense, so it’s important to play well at home.”

Did their first goal hit (Mark) Fraser’s stick?

“Yeah, I think it hit his stick, his pants and went down on me; it was kind of weird. I lost it for a good second, and I was looking like ‘Where is it?’ and the next thing I saw was it going by me, so it was an unfortunate break.”

Were you thinking shutout before that?

Smiling “No, no, it was too early, with four minutes left maybe.”

Cam Ward:

Did you feel any rust going in or was it the first shot and then you’re in the game?

“I felt a little bit uncomfortable at times in the first period, but as the game went along I thought I settled down and played better in the second and third; by the end of the game I felt like my old self again.”

Did this game start to take on the feel that it had when you guys faced each other in the playoffs last spring?

“Yeah, you know it’s just another game against the Devils — it’s always a hard-fought game; I thought our guys really competed well. We were pressing quite a bit in the second and third periods there and we just couldn’t find a way to get that third goal. They do such a good job at clogging up the slot — the middle of the ice in front of Marty. We worked hard, but once again we fell a little bit short.”

Jacques Lemaire:

How worried were you about blowing the lead when it was 3-2?

“Well at that time I wasn’t thinking about the game itself, the win or the loss, I was thinking about the way we were playing. If you notice we started to turn the puck over at their blue line, three, four times in a row and at different times.”

Who would you say saved the win for you?

“Saved the win? I know Marty made big saves at certain times, I think it’s again, the guys that played against their top line; I felt we did a pretty decent job against them.”

Devils go back in time on March 17, 2010

Both the Star-Ledger and the Bergen Record are reporting that the New Jersey Devils will wear their original colors — red, green and white — on March 17, 2010 against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Rock to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day. The Devils switched to the red, black and white color scheme that they wear now after the 1992-93 season/playoffs. The Devils had been one of the few —  if not the only — NHL team that hasn’t had an alternate, third or throwback jersey over the last 10-15 seasons. I think it’s a good idea if it’s a once a season deal. St. Patty’s Day or in late December would be an appropriate use.

Championship Plaza

Construction has began outside the Prudential Center on what is being called Championship Plaza…included in it will be: a 22-foot, 7,000-lb. hockey player statue, stone markers paying tribute to the Devils’ three Stanley Cups, Four Eastern Conference Championships and eight Atlantic Division titles, a 60-foot granite Devils logo, a recreation of Prudential’s ‘Rock of Gibraltor’ and a piece of the Plaza will have fan messages etched in bricks that can be purchased for a limited time…It should be a nice addition to what is an already beautiful arena, that is, as long as angry, obnoxious Rangers’ fans don’t start buying bricks like they buy seats at Rangers-Devils games in New Jersey…I look forward to seeing it when I return to the Rock in September…