Leading up to Wednesday night’s matchup between the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers, a lot of words were thrown around that you don’t normally hear at the mid-point of an NHL season. However, due to the lockout and 48-game schedule, these words in a way seemed truthful and appropriate. Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov said the following on Tuesday of the upcoming home-and-home series between the Devils and Flyers:
“You lose both games, you done,” he said. “You done. That’s it. This is it. This is probably reality. You’d be eight points behind …and not many games to catch up. It would be very, very difficult. It’s not going to depend on you (if you lose two), it’s going to depend more on other teams than you. That’s the importance of these games.”
From Mr. Universe himself, a person who sees things quite differently than others, this was something a lot of people would probably agree upon. In this shortened season, every game counts, especially against division foes, so NBC Sports Network’s nationally televised “Wednesday Night Rivalry” carried a lot of meaning for both teams.
Entering the game, the Devils stood at seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 29 points, while the Flyers were on the outside looking in with 25 points. By nights end, only one team showed up, and it was the team that has in all three of these heated matchups this season: the New Jersey Devils.
New Jersey got off to a hot start and on the board early. Two minutes into the game, Devils forward Adam Henrique lifted the stick of Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros behind the Flyers net, stole the puck, and sent it out towards the slot. From there, chaos ensued as Devils forward Steve Bernier fired it towards the net, followed by Henrique redirecting the puck right to Patrik Elias, who put it past an out of position Bryzgalov to give New Jersey an early 1-0 lead.
The Flyers would answer later in the period to tie the game at one thanks to a Jakub Voracek power-play goal. The Flyers were not without its chances throughout this game though, and its best ones came on the power play, which seemed early on like it could be lethal.
After this goal however, the tide would shift back towards New Jersey and it would stay there, starting with a little luck.Under a minute later, Adam Henrique took the puck over the Flyers blue line, staggered towards the right-side boards, and fired the puck towards the net. The puck would find its way in thanks to a redirection off of Flyers forward Matt Read. The goal was reviewed but instantly declared a good goal, giving New Jersey a 2-1 lead, a lead they would not relinquish.
The cherry on top of what was a spectacular first period for New Jersey came off the stick of Ilya Kovalchuk. After Bryce Salvador was called off for interference, the Devils took advantage of being a man down, something they seem to favor at this point. Off a scramble in the corner, Devils forward Stephen Gionta threw the puck off the boards and out of the Devils zone, leading Kovalchuk perfectly for a semi-breakaway down the right side. Kovalchuk then did what Kovalchuk does and gave the Devils a commanding 3-1 lead.
Kovalchuk’s goal will for sure be one of the highlights of the night, but believe it or not, it wasn’t even the highlight of this game. That can be credited to Andrei Loktionov, who beat Bryzgalov five-hole after pulling a slick toe-drag move around a sprawling Flyers defenseman. Flyers players, both forwards and defensemen, were found out of position all night, and in this situation it cost them dearly. Defenseman Bruno Gervais pinched in the Devils zone, where three other Flyers players already were, giving Loktionov and Kovalchuk an odd-man rush. Loktionov did the rest and gave the Devils a 4-1 lead entering the third period, where the lead only grew bigger.
Just under a minute into the final period, Adam Henrique delivered again for New Jersey and for his third point of the night. Showing strikingly similar resemblance of the puck movement seen from Ilya Kovalchuk’s power play goal against the Rangers in the Conference Finals last season, Henrique received a pass in the slot from Loktionov on the right side boards and took it all the way to the net, beating Bryzgalov high glove side on the backhand to give the Devils an insurmountable 5-1 lead. With the game already well in hand, Scott Hartnell tallied a goal for the Flyers to cut the lead to three goals. The comeback would not happen on this night though, as New Jersey walked away with a statement win.
For a lot of reasons, this victory for New Jersey is a big step forward for the rest of the year. Not only does it extend their point cushion over the Flyers, it should also give the Devils huge confidence going forward. In the previous nine games since Martin Brodeur went down with an injury, New Jersey struggled mightily, going 2-6-1. A big reason they were able to win tonight was because goaltender Johan “Moose” Hedberg was much stronger than he has been of late. Hedberg made 23 saves on 25 shots and looked like he found some of his game that was lost in recent weeks. Maybe it was the rivalry that fired him up, maybe it wasn’t, but if New Jersey is to continue to succeed without Brodeur back there, Hedberg needs to play like this night in and night out.
The win gives New Jersey (13-9-5) its 31st point of the season and moves them into a tie for sixth in the Eastern Conference with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Flyers (12-15-1) remain on the outside looking in with 25 points, three back of the 8th place New York Rangers.
The second leg of the home-and-home between the Devils and Flyers is scheduled for Friday at 7p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
- Ilya Kovalchuk has 7 points in the past 7 games (3G, 4A)
- Adam Henrique was named the first star of the game with 2 goals and 1 assist
- The Devils scored 4 goals for the first time since February 15, which also happened to be against the Flyers
- The Devils are 10-4 against the Flyers dating back to last season, including the 2011-2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
About the Author
Written by Mike Mastrandrea
Mike Mastrandrea is currently a Junior at Indiana University studying Sports Communication and Marketing. He was raised in New Jersey and is a dedicated New Jersey Devils, New York Jets, New York Mets, and Indiana Hoosiers fan. Mike's other interests include movies, hanging out with friends, and Chel.