Devils tighten the screws, and their scorers do the rest

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The Flyers' Riley Cote (left) tangles with New Jersey's Cam Janssen in Philadelphia's final appearance at the Continental Airlines Arena.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The commitment and right intentions were there for the Flyers last night in their final chance to pull out of Continental Airlines Arena and head south on the New Jersey Turnpike without long faces for a change.

Unfortunately for them, so was Martin Brodeur. And so was Brian Rafalski.

The Flyers came here to say goodbye to a building that to them represents the Heartbreak Hotel and checked out saying good riddance after they dropped a 3-1 decision to the New Jersey Devils.

The Devils plan to move to a new arena in Newark.

Typically, it was Brodeur, the future Hall of Fame goalie, who frustrated the Flyers for his 45th victory, which pulled him within two wins of the single-season record, set by Bernie Parent in the 1973-74 season.

Parent set the mark in a 78-game season. Teams now play 82 games, and the Devils have four remaining.

The win lifted the Devils into a first-place tie with Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division. For the Flyers, the loss continued a depressing trend that began in the 1989-90 season.

Since then, they have come to the place off Exit 16W and won eight of 46 games. They lost all four here this season, and their 15 shots last night were a season low.

The Flyers began the game as if they were hell-bent on denying the Devils their chance to catch the Penguins, swarming Brodeur while forechecking their way through New Jersey's stingy defense.

Less than two minutes after the opening face-off, Geoff Sanderson made a move that forced Brodeur to the side of the net. The puck went to Mike Knuble, whose shot was blocked by the sprawling defenseman Rafalski. It then ricocheted to Simon Gagne, who hit the post. Right then, Knuble figured it was going to be a difficult night.

"The second shift, I hit a leg and Simon hits the post," Knuble said. "Still, we played a pretty solid game, then they popped two [goals] late in the second. That's their M.O. here. They back up, clog the middle, and Marty made some saves, and anybody who plays in this building has seen how it plays out."

Uncharacteristically loose on defense during the first half of the game, the Devils tightened the screws and finally broke through on Flyers goalie Martin Biron, who never had a chance on Mike Rupp's tip-in, which gave New Jersey a 1-0 lead with 1:20 to go in the second period.

After Mike York went to the box with a hooking penalty, Travis Zajac made it 2-0 on a backhander off a scramble with 9.9 seconds remaining.

"It's a tough way to give up two goals there," Biron said. "After 2-0, they just try to shut everything down. But we had great chances right off the bat. I don't know how the puck didn't go in."

With Brodeur in the net and the Devils backtracking to protect their zone, the 2-0 deficit may as well have been 10-0. But Gagne ruined Brodeur's shutout, scoring his 38th goal of the season and giving the Flyers a glimmer of hope with 5:57 to go in the third period.

However, Jay Pandolfo sealed the win with an empty-net goal with 16 seconds left, after Brodeur stopped a chance by Stefan Ruzicka.

"They might be the best team in the league protecting a lead," Flyers coach John Stevens said of the Devils. "The one - I don't think the defenseman [Rafalski] even saw it and there was an empty net. Then in a minute and a half they put two pucks in the net and we just couldn't recover after that."

The Flyers have 53 points with four games remaining. The fewest points they have tallied in a season is 58, in 1969-70. That was a 76-game season.


Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo

at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.