Flyers' 3-1 lead not so safe; lines set for tonight

    UPDATE: Here are the Flyers' lines for Thursday night in New Jersey:





    Pronger on Kovalchuk guaranteeing a Devils win tonight: "Talk is cheap."

    For what it's worth, the Flyers scored a 5-1 win over New Jersey last month without Carter and JVR in the lineup. Leino had a goal and an assist in that game.

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    Less than 24 hours earlier, the Flyers scored an impressive 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils, took a commanding three-games-to-one lead in their first-round playoff series, and seemed back to playing the type of inspired hockey that preceded the Olympic break.
     And while no one was saying, “Bring on Ovechkin and the Capitals!” there were enough positive vibes to make you think that maybe, just maybe, the Flyers could be competitive with powerful Washington if they met in the Eastern Conference’s second round.
     That was before a bombshell hit the orange and black.
     In 1977, the Phillies self-destructed in an infamous ninth inning of playoff game against the Dodgers; it became known as Black Friday.
     For the Flyers, yesterday might be remembered as Wicked Wednesday.
     It was the day the Flyers learned that that two of their top forwards, Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter, will miss three and six weeks, respectively, because of fractures in their right feet. Both will have surgery Friday.
     Suddenly, the Flyers’ three-games-to-one lead over New Jersey doesn’t look so commanding.
     Ville (rhymes with Philly) Leino, who has shown offensive promise, and David Laliberte will probably be inserted into the lineup Thursday in Newark. Laliberte had a cup of coffee with the Flyers earlier this season before being sent back to the AHL Phantoms.
      General manager Paul Holmgren believes the Flyers will bond together and raise their level of play.
     “I expect us to react in a positive way,” he said.
     Still, there’s no denying that losing Carter and Gagne is a crusher. Not only are they quality scorers, but they are also effective on the power play and penalty kill. In addition, Carter is one of the team’s best in the faceoff circle, and Gagne is an excellent defensive player.
      Speaking of defense, that figures to be the way the Flyers can still win this series. The offense, which was already scuffling because of a lack of production from Scott Hartnell (three goals in his last 40 games) and James van Riemsdyk (three goals in his last 36 games), is now in deep trouble.
     The Flyers need Gagne’s and Carter’s replacements to be defensively responsible. They need the defense, anchored by Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, to continue its excellence. They need goalie Brian Boucher to keep playing like he did in his rookie season in 2000.
     If that happens, they should be able to squeeze out one win in the next three games and advance to a probable matchup with Washington.
     If not, we could see a repeat of the 2000 series, when the Devils overcame a three-games-to-one deficit and rallied past the Flyers. It’s the only series the Devils have won in eight tries when they have fallen into a 3-1 deficit.

     Breakaways. The Flyers have allowed just four even-strength goals in the series _ and none in the last two games…..In the series, the Flyers have blocked 70 shots _ 19 more than the Devils….Mike Richards called the Atlantic Division champion Devils a “great team that has been there before. You don’t want to give a great team any momentum that they can build on, so it’s important for us to establish our game plan early.”….Trying to change his luck, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur shaved off his playoff beard.

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