The Devils were one period away from being halfway home for the summer.
Desperate circumstances demand difference makers and inside the cauldron of noise that was the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night, it was Adam Larsson, David Clarkson, Travis Zajac and Martin Brodeur who stepped to the forefront. As a result, the Devils return home to the Prudential Center having split the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Flyers.
“We responded well,” Zach Parise said after the Devils evened the series with a 4-1, come-from-behind, win over the Flyers in Game 2. Game 3 is Thursday night at the Rock.
Larsson, Clarkson and Zajac scored back-to-back-to-back goals in a span of 11:07 to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead. Bryce Salvador added an empty net goal with 2:51 remaining. Brodeur turned away 19 shots.
Ilya Bryzgalov made 31 saves for Philadelphia. Matt Read scored the Flyers’ lone goal just 2:53 into the match.
Philadelphia was content to milk the lead and the strategy worked until Larsson tied the game, 1-1, with a bullet over Bryzgalov 3:08 into the third. Larsson was in the lineup for the first time since April 7 due to Ilya Kovalchuk remaining in New Jersey receiving treatment for a lower body injury.
“I was very glad to get back,” Larsson said. “I knew if I wanted to stay in the lineup I had to step it up. It was a great drop pass by [Dainius Zubrus] and it was a great screen by [Adam Henrique]. I just tried to get it high.”
The game was even on the scoreboard. On the ice, it was the Devils who had the advantage.
Clarkson put the Devils ahead for good with a crease-crashing goal at 8:43. Zajac’s wraparound goal three minutes later increased the lead to 3-1.
“Their skating was better than our skating,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. “They were quicker; they were more competitive on the puck than we were. In the end, the results are just based on our play.”
The Devils outshot the Flyers 35-20 for the game, but many of their attempts were long shots from the periphery as the Flyers packed the middle of the ice. Philadelphia also blocked 23 shots.
“We were getting chances, it wasn’t going in for us. Finally we kept working,” David Clarkson said. “We didn’t give up. … We kept pushing.”
The Devils were shorthanded as Ilya Kovalchuk missed the game with an undisclosed lower-body injury, according to general manager Lou Lamoriello. There has been speculation that Kovalchuk’s back or groin is bothering him, although he would only say he was “fine” when previously asked about his condition.
“He’s had this since the middle of the first series,” Lamoriello told reporters Tuesday morning. “It’s not positive for the team if he can’t be at 100 percent.”
Coach Peter DeBoer moved defenseman Peter Harrold to a fourth line wing position and inserted Larsson into the lineup. Larsson was plus-one in 13:15 of ice time, while Harrold was credited with an assist and four shots on goal in 6:47.
“He’s a huge part of our team,” Parise said of Kovalchuk. “Internally we knew everyone had to be a little better without him in the lineup.
“We had contributions from everyone. Our all-around team game was good.”
Follow NHL writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.