It wasn’t the first period the New Jersey Devils imagined.
After getting a goal just seconds after the opening faceoff, the Philadelphia Flyers dominated the Devils. Their forwards caused multiple turnovers, their shots came fast and often, and New Jersey saw their early lead quickly erased.
It wasn’t enough to hold down New Jersey. The Devils scored four unanswered goals over the final 40 minutes, including David Clarkon’s game-winner midway through the third period, to defeat the Flyers 5-3 tonight at the Prudential Center.
Patrik Elias (1g, 2a) and Ilya Kovalchuk (3a) finished with multi-point nights to lead the Devils. The newly-acquired Alexei Ponikarovsky also scored for New Jersey, who defeated the rival Flyers for the second time this season.
A Travis Zajac goal forty seconds into regulation gave New Jersey a 1-0 lead.
Mark Fayne started the play, checking Wayne Simmonds off the puck near the Devils blue line. Kovalchuk took the loose puck, skating through the neutral zone and catching Philadelphia in a line change. He sent a pass to Zajac in the left circle, and the Devils center buried his chance by the blocker of Ilya Bryzgalov.
That would be the high point of the period for New Jersey.
“We got the first goal and fell into the trap that maybe it was going to be an easy night,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “We should know better, especially against a desperate Philadelphia team.”
The Flyers beat New Jersey at its own game, aggressively forechecking and creating multiple turnovers.
“They came out, they dictated the play and did what they wanted to do,” Devils captain Bryce Salvador said. “When you’re not breaking out clean and not slowing down their speed in the neutral zone, they’re going to make you pay. And that’s what they did in the first period.”
That paid off for Philadelphia, as they forced Marek Zidlicky to the box. The Flyers received their only power play of the game, but made it count.
With the extra man, Brayden Schenn fanned on his shot from the slot, and Simmonds grabbed the loose puck at the right post. He stuffed his attempt through the legs of Martin Brodeur for his fourth goal of the season.
Mike Knuble came next, scoring his second goal of the season to give Philadelphia a 2-1 lead. Ruslan Fedotenko’s pass from the end boards found Knuble all alone in the slot. He shot just as Anton Volchenkov crossed in front of Brodeur. It gave the Flyers right wing the screen he needed as the puck found its way past Brodeur’s glove.
Under a minute later, Matt Read scored the third straight Flyers goal. Fayne grabbed a loose puck from in front of Brodeur, but his pass went right to the stick of Claude Giroux in the right circle. He fired a cross-ice pass to Read, who one-timed the puck past Brodeur for his sixth goal.
“I thought we were sitting back and watching instead of dictating,” DeBoer said. “We were giving them too much room and that’s not our game.”
Salvador admitted New Jersey didn’t need to say much after the period. The score was enough.
“Believe it or not, not too much had to be said,” the Devils captain. “We just knew the first period wasn’t good enough. At the end of the day, you have to remember they want to win it just as much as we do. You have to remember – they came out and dictated, and they got rewarded in the first period for it. Going into the second period, we all knew we just had to be much better.”
Kovalchuk said the early deficit left plenty of time for New Jersey to stage its comeback.
“[There was] two and a half periods left, and anything can happen,” Kovalchuk said. “Pete shake the bench a little bit. He told us we better wake up and start playing.”
Ponikarovsky started the comeback just 26 seconds into the second period. Brodeur showed off his stickhandling, sending a pass from his net to Kovalchuk at center ice. He moved in on a 3-on-2, dropping the puck for Ponikarovsky near the blue line. The Devils forward skated to the left circle, freezing Bryzgalov with a shot past his blocker, cutting the deficit to 3-2.
Ponikarovksy also scored against the Flyers in his Devils debut last season. He also scored the game-winning overtime goal in the third game of the Eastern Conference semifinals. As a Devil, Ponikarovsky has six points (4g, 2a) in 10 combined regular season and playoff games.
“Let’s not make a big deal about it [scoring against the Flyers],” he said after the game. “I had an opportunity to shoot the puck, and I’m glad that I got a goal for the team.”
Elias tied the game at 15:40 of the middle period. Zajac hit Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen behind the net, knocking the puck loose. Kovalchuk picked it up at the goal line, and found Elias in the slot. Bryzgalov stopped the shot, but couldn’t keep it in front of him. The puck rolled into the open net for the game-tying goal.
“We went to the right forecheck routes, and they turned the puck over,” Kovalchuk said. “He was coming from the bench. A nice shot from him.”
Then it was Clarkson’s turn.
The Devils right wing capped off the comeback effort in the third period, scoring the go-ahead goal. Adam Larsson intercepted a clearing attempt at the right point and sent a shot toward the net. Clarkson tipped it past Bryzgalov for his team-leading 10th goal.
“It was a great play by Larse,” Clarkson said. “He impresses me more and more every night, but that shot by him was just perfect location for me to get a stick on it. I just got a stick on it and that’s a big one for us.”
Brodeur finished with 25 saves for the win.
Bryzgalov stopped just 14 of 18 shots as the Flyers fell to 2-7-0 on the road this season.
The win wasn’t pretty, but DeBoer said getting the points in this shortened season is all that matters.
“You have to win all kinds of ways in a shortened season, and not all of them are pretty,” he said. “That’s one I would categorize as not pretty, but we found a way to get the job done.”
Kovalchuk moved within one point of 800 in his career tonight. The right wing was out on the ice when the Flyers pulled Bryzgalov late in the period, but couldn’t find a way to get the point.
Zajac’s goal was fastest to start a game this season. He also finished with his first multi-point game this year.
Brodeur, who picked up an assist on the Ponikarovsky goal, now has 41 helpers in his career.
Claude Giroux skated in his 300th career game, recording two assists.