EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The New Jersey Devils are never an easy team to play, even if the Flyers are having a good year and are gearing up for a playoff run.
But with the Flyers just trying to make a showing in the last games of the season and the Devils needing every point for positioning in the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division lead, it can make for a tough night.
Give the Flyers some credit for the parts of the game they played, take some points back for the parts they didn't, and give the majority of the praise to the Devils, who did what they had to and beat the Flyers, 3-1, at Continental Airlines Arena last night.
Simon Gagne scored his 38th goal of the season at 14:03 of the third period to get within two goals of both 40 for the year and 200 for his career, but that was all the offense the Flyers could manage.
Scoring two quick goals in the final minutes of the second period, New Jersey fell back into the familiar pattern of sitting back, clogging the middle, forcing turnovers and sitting on their lead.
"They might be the best team in the league protecting the lead," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "We had some great chances in the first period. The one, I don't think the defenseman even saw. Then we had an empty net that we didn't get and rang it off the post. I think if you can get the lead in here it goes a long way to help you win the hockey game."
But they didn't, even when as Stevens described, they got Martin Brodeur out of his net with men in front. It happened early in the first, when Jeff Carter got Brodeur moving and then came back through the crease with a pass to Mike Knuble for a shot that looked like a sure thing until Brian Rafalski got in the way by chance.
"[Carter] pulled him out of the net and whipped it right back up through the crease," Knuble said. "I had the open net and somehow hit him flush in the chin. And then I circled out and [Gagne] came right down the slot. He had to adjust a little bit. He adjusted and hit the post.
"It was kind of a sign of what was going to happen. I don't think we felt that at the time, but in hindsight, it's hard to score in here sometimes, especially when you get breaks like that."
And when the home team is so good at trapping and forcing turnovers.
The Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins are now tied with 100 points each while the loss holds the Flyers at 53. The Flyers finished with 58 points in 1969-70 during a 76-game season, the fewest number of points in franchise history.
Brodeur was impossible to beat, even when the Flyers had him moving post-to-post and again when Martin Biron was pulled in the third period for an extra skater.
The game started fast and intense, typical for when the Devils and Flyers are on the ice. The Flyers outshot and outchanced New Jersey, but could not score.
The Flyers had back-to-back power plays including a 29-second five-on-three, but still nothing.
The game remained scoreless and balanced until about midway through the second period when the Devils turned up the pace and their game.
Mike Rupp broke the deadlock at the 18:40 mark, tipping an Andy Greene point shot behind Biron. The goal was followed closely by a Mike York hooking penalty then another New Jersey goal.
With the Devils on the power play, the Flyers got outnumbered in front and Travis Zajac netted a rebound from the side of the net, giving New Jersey a 2-0 lead with just 9.9 seconds left in the period.
"It's tough to give up two goals at the end of a period, especially in this building," Biron said. "You know they're going to be content to sit down on the 2-0 lead."
New defensive prospect Ryan Parent will come to Philadelphia this weekend to train with the Phantoms with the hope of getting him in games, said Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren.
Parent was a key piece in the trade with Nashville for Peter Forsberg. Parent's junior team, the Guelph Storm, was swept in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs by the Plymouth Whalers. Parent, according to Holmgren, "is a little banged up."
"We want to get him in here and get him checked out by our doctors," Holmgren said. "He had a tough series, logged a lot of minutes and his shoulder is banged up. It's nothing serious, but we want to get him checked out."
Scottie Upshall, also obtained the Forsberg trade, missed his third game last night with a collarbone injury. He is doubtful for tonight against the Rangers. *