The New Jersey Devils have a chance to end the season for the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Devils enter tonight’s first game of a home-and-home series with the rival Flyers with a four point lead in the Eastern Conference standings. New Jersey sits in seventh place with a game in hand. Two wins would push Philadelphia eight points back and sink their playoff chances.
Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov said its a must-win series.
“You win both games, you are tied with them, and you have a good chance to continue to battle for the playoffs,” he told Sam Carchidi of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “You lose both games, you are done. You are done. That’s it. This is it. This is, probably, the reality. You’re going to be eight points behind [after losing both games in regulation] . . . and not many games are left to catch up. It would be very, very difficult.”
The two teams open the series tonight at the Prudential Center. It’s the third time the rivals meet in Newark this season. New Jersey has won the first two games, outscoring the Flyers, 8-3. The Devils won the last meeting, 5-3, on February 15. Travis Zajac scored 40 seconds into the start of regulation to give New Jersey a lead. Philadelphia responded, taking a 3-1 lead in the span of 2:36 seconds. Wayne Simmonds, Mike Knuble and Matt Read scored within that span to put the Flyers ahead. Alexei Ponikarovsky began the second period with a goal 26 seconds in, and New Jersey was off from there, scoring four straight to defeat Philadelphia.
The win was the sixth straight over the Flyers. Including last year’s playoff series, New Jersey has won eight of its last ten games against Philadelphia.
Ilya Kovalchuk leads all skaters with five points (1g, 4a) in the season series. His four assists are the most among any player. Zajac and David Clarkson each have two goals against the Flyers, and 12 different skaters have at least one point. Martin Brodeur won both games, posting a 1.50 goals-against average and .942 save percentage.
Claude Giroux leads the Flyers with two assists against the Devils. Three different players are tied for the team lead with one goal. In the two losses, Bryzgalov has a 3.54 goals-against average and .841 save percentage.
Devils head coach Pete DeBoer said New Jersey will need to match Philadelphia’s intensity.
“Philly is playing for their life here and we should have the same mindset,” DeBoer told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “We’re into the stretch run and I think both teams are going to compete at a very high level. For us, the biggest challenge is going to be to channel that energy and emotion and play controlled.”
Johan Hedberg will start his 10th straight game. He has not faced Philadelphia this season, and is 9-10-1 with a 3.07 goals-against average and .898 save percentage against the Flyers.
New Jersey is looking for back-to-back wins for the first time since a season-high five game win streak from February 3-10. The Devils defeated the Winnipeg Jets, 3-2, in a shootout Sunday at the Prudential Center. Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta gave New Jersey a 2-0 first period lead. Winnipeg answered back with goals from Mark Stuart and Evander Kane to send the game into the shootout. Patrik Elias scored the only goal during the skills competition, putting his backhand shot through the legs of Ondrej Pavelec.
The Devils are 8-3-2 at home this season, and have won its last two games in the shootout.
The Flyers snapped a three-game losing streak Sunday with a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Philadelphia jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals from Simon Gagne and Max Talbot. Giroux would score the eventual game-winning goal in the second period. Bryzgalov made 18 saves for his 12th win of the season.
New Jersey is 7-1-2 against the division opponents this season. The three wins against the Flyers are the most against any Atlantic Division team.