PUBLISHED APRIL 23, 2010
As the door to the New Jersey Devils dressing room opened for the last time in the 2009-10 NHL season, The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” cascaded down from the roof of The Prudential Center.
The pained faraway looks on the players’ faces confirmed that the musical choice was painfully fitting.
Despite the 12th 100-point season in franchise history and the ninth division championship, the Devils season will be viewed as a failure following their series-ending 3-0 Game 5 loss Thursday night. Philadelphia will prepare for most likely the NHL regular season champion Washington Capitals while the Devils are left to reflect on what could have been.
If attempting to compare this series loss to others in recent history, it is not the devastating heartbreak of allowing two goals in 80 seconds to Carolina last year. Nor is it akin to falling in five tight games to a Rangers team that was their equal two years ago.
No, rather this devastation was reminiscent of the 4-1 Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Hurricanes in 2006. The Hurricanes were clearly the better team in that series, just as the Flyers were visibly stronger and deeper than the Devils. The Flyers won nine of 11 meetings during the regular and postseasons.
“I think this year could sting a little more because we had the group to make a long playoff run. To come up short, it makes it that much more disappointing,” said Mike Mottau.
An organization whose stated goal is the Cup will not tolerate three consecutive first round flameouts. But the post-mortem will come soon enough for the Devils. Their initial feelings were anger, frustration and very pointed statements about the team’s desire.
“If you’re not playing your best hockey, playing a great system and believing in it and doing all the little things, it isn’t just going to happen. No one’s going to hand it to you,” Colin White said. “I mean we have do it, night in and night out. You don’t do it for five minutes and then take 10 minutes off and then do it for five. It just doesn’t work like that.”
Philadelphia broke through 3:16 into the game with a Danny Briere power-play goal. Briere slipped down the slot behind Brian Rolston, who was watching Claude Giroux, and chipped Giroux’s centering feed past Martin Brodeur (11 saves). Despite the early goal, the Devils said that they felt confident.
The belief dissipated when Giroux scored two goals in a 2:01 span in the second period to put the Flyers up 3-0. Giroux’s first goal was a straight away slapshot that beat Brodeur high stick side just under the crossbar. The other was a power play goal with Dean McAmmond serving a double-minor for high sticking.
“He had a terrific game,” Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette said of Giroux. Giroux led the Flyers with four goals in the series and was second on the team with six points. “I remember back two months ago. We were talking and he told me that he wanted some responsibility. We revisited that conversation this morning with some veterans.”
Following the early skate, the Devils talked about playing “a 60-minute game” and vowed to get to Flyers’ goaltender Brian Boucher (18 saves). Boucher made five tough saves, but wasn’t made to work all that hard. And the desperation did not appear until after the game—and the series—had long since been decided.
Jacques Lemaire did not pull punches.
“I thought it was bulls—t, as a matter of fact,” the Devils’ coach said Thursday morning after being asked if the Devils received an emotional boost at the news that Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne will miss the rest of this series—and the playoffs—with foot injuries. “I don’t believe (anybody). So I can’t say it gave us a lift.”
While Lemaire believed the Flyers are playing a cat-and-mouse game, the truth of the matter is that Philadelphia’s second and seventh-leading goal scorers are done for the playoffs after each suffered a broken right foot in Game Four. With the Flyers leading the series 3-1, Ville Leino and AHL call-up David Laliberte were the prospective replacements for Carter and Gagne.
Carter, the Flyers’ leading goal scorer, was struck in his previously broken right foot, by a shot from teammate Chris Pronger. A Brian Rolston shot hit Gagne on his right foot. According to Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren, both will undergo surgery today.
Certainly the losses of Carter and Gagne are unfortunate for a Flyers team that is on the verge of eliminating their Atlantic Division rival from the playoffs. Carter recorded two goals and an assist in the first four games while Gagne has two assists.
Still, while the seventh-seeded Flyers will miss the duo, they recognize that lamenting their losses will not advance their cause.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game, a tough game to win on the road in their building. We’ve been playing really well and we’ve had some success against this team in their own building. The mindset is to not give them any life and close them out as soon as we can.,” Blair Betts said after the Flyers’ morning skate. “Our game plan doesn’t change. We’re going to add a couple of new bodies to the lineup and they’re going to play the same way as everyone else. They’re (Carter and Gagne) a couple key offensive players in our lineup and we may need some great individual efforts from players that you wouldn’t normally expect. We hope to get that tonight.”
The Flyers have received contributions from uber pest Daniel Carcillo prior to last night. Carcillo, who finished the regular season with 12 goals and 207 penalty minutes, is tied with Carter, Mike Richards, Chris Pronger and Claude Giroux for the team lead in goals with two. To put it another way: Carcillo has the same amount of goals as does Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk averaged 23:20 of ice time while Carcillo received 8:53.
The Devils did not particularly care that Carter and Gagne are gone. Instead, they focused on what they hadn’t done well, specifically special teams. The Devils power play has only cashed in on four of their 24 chances with the man advantage, while allowing six goals on 23 power plays against.
Most glaringly, the lack of bodies in front of Boucher has allowed the Flyers’ third-string netminder to gain confidence. Boucher is 3-1 with a 1.98 goals against and a .925 save percentage, which ranks fifth in the playoffs behind only Nashville Pekka Rinne (.953), Colorado’s Craig Anderson (.948), Boston’s Tuukka Rask (.939) and Chicago’s Antti Niemi and Buffalo’s Ryan Miller (tied at .927).
“We’re not playing bad hockey. We’re just not putting the puck enough and getting around their goalie. We have to be around their net more. We have to be around their net and create traffic for him,” David Clarkson said. “He’s a good goalie. He’s played well. He’s done great for them. We just got to get around the net more.”
Lemaire, Clarkson and Zach Parise echoed the same theme about the Devils’ mindset with their season on the line.
“I think the team at this time, the players, they should only have one thing in mind: Come out with their best game for 60 minutes and nothing else,” Lemaire said. “They have to focus on what they do well and nothing else.” Parise said that the Devils needed “more consistency” while Clarkson repeated “60 minutes” when talking about the effort needed.
Betts admitted that he was pleased that he and the Flyers beat out his former team, the Rangers, for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Rangers did not re-sign Betts last summer, opting to sign Donald Brashear to a two-year, $1.8 million contract. Betts signed with the Flyers, before both parties extended the deal for two years. In all, he will make $1.950 million with the Flyers.
Brashear totaled no goals, an assist, was minus-nine and had 73 penalty minutes in 36 games before being put on waivers. Betts recorded eight goals and 18 points, was plus-seven in 63 games.
“I think there was satisfaction in the fact that it came down to those last two games and we were able to win in a shootout. We felt that we should have won (the last game of the season) in regulation for sure,” Betts said. “There’s satisfaction there. There’s no grudge; they wanted to go in a different direction and that’s part of the game.”
“I’m just glad we’re in the position that we’re in right now.”
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