For a team that would have missed the playoffs if it didn't win a dreaded shoot-out on the season's final day, the Flyers aren't playing as if they are lucky just to be competing in the Stanley Cup tournament.
Thanks to an overtime goal by an unlikely source - feisty winger Dan Carcillo - the seventh-seeded Flyers defeated the second-seeded New Jersey Devils 3-2, Sunday night at the electric Wachovia Center and took a two-games-to-one lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
With 3 minutes, 35 seconds elapsed in a Flyers-dominated overtime, Carcillo knocked in a loose puck after a scramble in which Mike Richards swatted the puck off goalie Martin Brodeur.
Asked what it felt like to be smothered by hundreds of pounds of teammates after the first overtime goal of his career, Carcillo smiled. "It was awesome," he said. "It felt pretty good."
Before he hopped over the boards and got into the play, Carcillo and teammate Ian Laperriere had a premonition on the bench.
"You know what I appreciate the most? He's sitting next to me and I told him, 'It's time to be the hero.' " Laperriere said. "He looks at me and is like, 'I got that one.' And two minutes later, he does it. It's awesome. You've seen it in the past in the playoffs: It might not be the goal scorer who gets the goal; it's the grinder. And he rose to the occasion and I'm happy for him and happy for us."
The Flyers controlled the third period and the overtime, outshooting the Devils, 18-4, in that span of 23:35.
Game 4 is Tuesday night at the Wachovia Center.
Since the franchise started in 1967-68, the Flyers are 17-3 in series in which they have won two of the first three games. New Jersey is 3-11 when losing two of the first three.
Kimmo Timonen, anchoring a defensive duo with Braydon Coburn, helped blank New Jersey's elite line of Ilya Kovalchuk (zero shots), Jamie Langenbrunner (one) and Travis Zajac (three). None of them scored.
The Flyers' Chris Pronger and Matt Carle were just as effective against Zach Parise, Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus, who combined for no goals and five shots.
With 18:30 left in overtime, the Flyers got a power play thanks to David Clarkson's interference penalty. Just before that, Brodeur poke-checked the puck away from James van Riemsdyk as he broke in alone on the legendary goalie.
Brodeur, who was denied his 100th playoff win and slipped to 12-21 in overtime games during his career, was brilliant as he made 31 saves.
"He gave us a chance tonight," New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire said.
The Flyers gave the Devils eight power plays, and New Jersey converted on two of them as it got a pair of goals from Brian Rolston.
"I'm very disappointed in the number of penalties we took; the penalties we took were lazy penalties," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "There were too many hooks, too many holds. We need to let our legs do the work and keep our stick on the ice.
"I'm also disappointed that there weren't more infractions the other way."
The Flyers had five power plays, and cashed in on one of them as Claude Giroux scored. They benefited, however, from an interference call on Clarkson in overtime. The penalty had expired five seconds before Carcillo's game-winner, but Clarkson had not gotten into the play.
The Flyers had to feel fortunate to leave the ice in a 1-1 tie after the first period because they gave the Devils four power plays.
Simon Gagne, not known for his hitting, helped set up the go-ahead goal by checking Mark Fraser off the puck behind the Devils' net. Carcillo picked up the puck and fed Richards on the doorstep, and the center knocked in past Brodeur with 18:45 left in the second period.
The Devils scored the equalizer on Rolston's second power-play goal of the game, a drive from the point in which he used former Flyer Zubrus as a screen. Rolston's shot went through the legs of a leaping Zubrus and beat Brian Boucher (17 saves) to the short side with 3:22 left in the second period.
The Flyers had the better scoring chances in the first 13-plus minutes of the third period, but Brodeur made a handful of key saves, including in-close stops on Giroux and Gagne while the Flyers were on the power play.
Brodeur robbed Danny Briere with 6:25 left to keep the score tied at 2-2.
Scott Hartnell was ahead of the pack, and he dropped a pass to the trailer, Briere, whose shot was somehow kicked aside by Brodeur - who looked like his vintage self - with about 6:30 left.
"We passed up a lot of shots in the third period for whatever reason," Langenbrunner said, adding that the Devils were "trying to throw it across instead of throwing at the net."
"It's a seven-game series. What's important is to stay-level headed through the highs and lows," Rolston said.
The Flyers had their forecheck working and they played a great part of the game in New Jersey's end - that is, when they weren't on the penalty kill.
"When we did play five-on-five hockey, I thought that our defense and our gaps were really good," Laviolette said. "I think our forwards did a good job of chasing pucks from behind, and it all goes back to our aggressive style. We're in the offensive zone quite a bit when we are playing five-on-five, so as the game wore on [in the third period] and the overtime, we kept pressing."
Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or email@example.com.