The most surprising thing about the Flyers’ wildly entertaining 3-2 overtime victory over New Jersey Sunday wasn’t that Dan Carcillo scored the winning goal.
It was that the host Flyers _ the team that needed to overcome great odds just to sneak into the playoffs _ dominated long stretches of the game, especially in the third period and the overtime.
“I thought five-on-five, we did a lot of great things tonight,” center Mike Richards said.
He was right. The Flyers outscored the Devils, 2-0, in even-strength situations.
Remember, this is a New Jersey team that won the Atlantic Division and finished as the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed.
The Flyers needed to win a shoot-out in the season finale against the Rangers to get into the playoffs. They did just that, and if you have your hand raised that you thought Brian Boucher would outduel standout Henrik Lundqvist to win that shootout, well, you don’t have much company.
Not only did they win that shootout because Boucher stopped one more shot than Lundqvist and because young sniper Claude Giroux adroitly put the game-winner through the goalie’s legs, but they got the seventh seed.
That gave them a favorable matchup. After all, the Flyers won five of six from New Jersey in the regular season.
Still, no one could have expected the Flyers to shut down Ilya Kovalchuk (one-empty net goal in three games, no shots on Sunday) and to take a two-games-to-one lead without getting a goal from Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne or Briere.
On Sunday, the Flyers shut down Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.
“We tried to take away their time and space as much as possible a,” defenseman Chris Pronger said. “Our forwards did a great job of rerouting them back through the middle and forcing them to dump a lot of pucks that maybe they didn’t want to. Really, it’s trying to deny those guys the pucks and not allowing them access to the front of the net, where they score a lot of goals.”
The Flyers are leading the series because their defense, anchored by Pronger and the underrated Kimmo Timonen, has been superb, because Mike Richards and Claude Giroux have stepped up their games, because Brian Boucher has been steady and made the big saves when called upon.
They’re also leading because their role players _ guys like Darroll Powe (excellent on Sunday), Blair Betts, Ian Laperriere and Carcillo _ have made timely contributions. (“We feed off his energy,” Richards said of Carcillo. “He was all over the place tonight, making some big hits, making some big plays.”)
Expect New Jersey to play a more desperate game on Tuesday. If they lose and fall into a 3-1 hole, they are just about cooked. New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire hinted he may juggle his lines to get Kovalchuk untracked.
Even if he does alter his lines, it may not matter _ not if the Timonen-Braydon Coburn pairing and the Pronger-Matt Carle unit play like they did on Sunday.
The winner of Tuesday’s game, it says here, will win take the series.
Boucher expects the Devils to block out Sunday’s disheartening loss.
“In the playoffs, you have to have short-term memory,” he said. “This game is over with, and now the focus is on Game 4. Those guys are professionals over there. They have probably the best goalie in the league (Martin Brodeur) and he’s been through it all. He’ll forget about it and it’ll be a new game in Game 4.”
Maybe. But the Devils, having lost seven of nine games against the Flyers this season, have to be filled with doubt. Big-time doubt.
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