Penalty kill gives Devils the edge
Kovalchuk the star with three points as Ponikarovsky settles game in OT
— The Philadelphia Flyers better start worrying about the New Jersey Devils, and soon — real soon.
Ilya Kovalchuk had a goal and two assists in his return to the lineup and set up Alexei Ponikarovsky’s tally with 2:39 left in overtime as the Devils defeated the Flyers, 4-3, Thursday night to take a 2-1 lead in this Eastern Conference semifinal series.
“Winning this game in overtime is a big plus,” said Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who made 25 saves. “... We play another big one, and we can really put the pressure on them in the next game if we play well.”
The Devils have the series edge because they’ve scored 11 goals in three games, and their penalty kill — No. 1 in the NHL during the regular season — has been outstanding. It erased two penalties in overtime and has limited the Flyers to two goals on 16 extra-man chances overall. Philadelphia was 12-for-23 against Pittsburgh in the opening round.
“We’re really confident with our penalty kill. It’s been good all series,” said Zach Parise, who also scored for New Jersey along with Patrik Elias.
“They’ve got great players on the power play, but we’re finding a way to make it tough on them. We had to remind ourselves that we had the best penalty kill all year, and that was for a reason.”
The Devils’ short-handed unit was so good in overtime that the Flyers never threatened in those four minutes.
Kovalchuk, who missed Game 2 with a lower back injury, then made a pass from his own end that sent Ponikarovsky into the Flyers’ zone on a 2-on-1. Ilya Bryzgalov stopped his initial shot but the forward snared his first goal of the postseason on a backhander past Bryzgalov’s left side.
“I didn’t have time to celebrate because everyone jumped on me right away,” Ponikarovsky said, “but I had a great time in the pile.”
But Kovalchuk, clearly, was the Devils’ top player in Game 3.
“You feel pressure,” Kovalchuk said. “The guys played so well, and you don’t want to get back in the lineup just because you want to play.”
Danny Briere, Matt Carle and Brayden Schenn tallied for the Flyers. Bryzgalov had 27 saves.
“We’re down 2-1, the pressure is on us,” Flyers forward Claude Giroux said. “There is no guy on this team that is going to quit. It’s going to be a wake-up call. We have a good series now.
“I think the power play won us a lot of games this year and tonight wasn’t the case,” Giroux added. “We have to do a better job.”
The Devils seemed on the verge of a 3-2 win early in the third when Parise rammed a puck into the net from in close after Elias won a loose puck behind the net and found the Devils’ captain all alone at the right goalpost.
Kovalchuk came within inches of making it a two-goal lead minutes later, when he had a shot hit off the crossbar as Bryzgalov looked behind him.
Philadelphia tied the game on somewhat of a gift from Brodeur. The Devils’ 39-year-old goaltender could not control a weak shot from the outside of the left faceoff circle by James van Riemsdyk, and Briere chipped the rebound over his pads.
The first two periods were distinct with the Devils dominating the final 11 minutes of the opening session, and the Flyers having the upper hand for most of the second.
Carle tied the game at 2-2 at 4:44 of the second with a blast from the top of the left circle that was set up by Jakub Voracek.
After falling behind 1-0 early, the Devils outshot Philadelphia 10-3 and grabbed the lead when Elias and Kovalchuk tallied in a 20-second span, the fastest two postseason goals in franchise history.