History is a cruel judge. It cares not for the whys and wherefores. Its only demand is the facts.
Recent New Jersey Devils playoff history has been an unwelcome juxtaposition of heartbreaking failure for an organization whose DNA is encoded with success. Two years ago, the then-fourth seeded Devils were dismissed by the Rangers in five games. Last year, the third-seed Devils were 80 seconds away from advancing to the second round before falling to sixth seeded Carolina in a Game 7.
History will show that with a hated rival in the house for the first of what seems certain to be a long, mean-spirited quarterfinal series, the Devils power play was inept in their 2-1 loss to Flyers Wednesday night. Game 2 is Friday night at The Rock.
The Devils 11th -ranked-in-the-regular season power play was thoroughly stymied by Philadelphia’s 11th ranked penalty kill. New Jersey was 0-5 with the man advantage and only leveled four shots at Brian Boucher (23 saves).
“Wasn’t good,” was Zach Parise’s analysis.
“Our power play, we have to be better on. That’s it. They won,” offered David Clarkson.
“I think it’s making simple plays,” said Travis Zajac. His slapshot goal with 2:43 remaining ended Boucher’s shutout bid. “It’s just about making the right plays.”
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette opined that the “structure” and system implemented by assistant coach Craig Berube as key to the success of their penalty kill.
“Our penalty kill the last month has been outstanding,” Laviolette said while making sure to praise the Devils’ personnel.
Chris Pronger scored the series’ first goal at 9:35 into the second period. With Dainius Zubrus in the box for hooking, Mike Richards threw a goalmouth pass that Danny Briere jabbed at before Pronger tapped under Martin Brodeur’s (12 saves) pads and into the net.
Pronger’s goal deflated the crowd and the Devils, who had dominated the Flyers in every feasible manner up to that point.
Ilya Kovalchuk briefly awoke the crowd two minutes later with a spectacular end-to-end rush which culminated with a shot high and wide of Boucher. Kovalchuk, who turns 27 today, was not alone in missing the net. His teammates spent much of the evening shooting high and wide of Boucher, who finished the regular season with a 9-18-3 record and .899 save percentage.
Kovalchuk and Parise dismissed the notions that the Devils experienced Game 1 jitters and that the ice was below par.
“(The) puck was bouncing all over our sticks,” Kovalchuk said. “Nah, it wasn’t nerves. It happened. We have to find a way to fight through that.”
“We have to play on the same sheet as they do,” said Parise.
Richards increased the lead to 2-0 with an even strength slap shot goal that was out of Brodeur’s reach with 3:33 remaining in the period. Defenseman Martin Skoula gave the puck away to Ian Laperriere, who carried the puck into the zone and froze Skoula with a 360 degree spin-o-rama to set up Richards from the middle of the ice for the game-winner.
This series marks the third time the Atlantic Division rivals have met in the playoffs, and the first time since 2004. The Devils have won two-of-the-three series. Both wins came in the Eastern Conference Finals (1995 and 2000). The Devils also won the Stanley Cup in those years.