The Philadelphia Flyers knew what they were getting when they came to Wells Fargo Center Saturday afternoon. They knew that the New Jersey Devils had gone 4-0-1 since losing in Philadelphia on January 8th. They were cautiously aware of the possibility of the ‘trap game’ that sports pundits talk about in length.
It didn’t matter, however. New Jersey brought the fight to the Flyers in a two-goal first period that would be too much to overcome due to the stellar play of goalie Johan Hedberg.
For as good as the Flyers have been this season, they’ve showed lapses in concentration and effort in stretches. Of course, every team faces the same problem through the course of the year, but the team has enough talent to overcome their occasional lethargy most of the time. They may play 30 minutes of lazy hockey, but manage to come away with an easy victory.
New Jersey wouldn’t let that happen on Saturday. The Devils were hungry for a victory over their divisional rival on Saturday, and they wasted no time demonstrating it.
Just 5:25 into the game, Henrik Tallinder found the back of the net on a point shot. Less than seven minutes later, it had seemed like the Flyers had weathered the early storm when Brian Boucher gave up a soft goal to perennial Flyers-killer, Patrik Elias. After one period of play, the Flyers were outshot, 10-5, and the Devils had all the scoring they would need.
In the second period, the Flyers found some intensity and dominated play for stretches, but they couldn’t break the zero on the scoreboard. But with 20 seconds remaining in the period, Mike Richards fired a brilliant diagonal pass to Claude Giroux, who received the pass in stride. Giroux then found James van Riemsdyk for a deflection goal and it seemed like the Flyers and their rabid fans would go home happy.
However, Hedberg wouldn’t allow that to happen. In a frantic last period, the Flyers registered 12 shots on goal, but each attempt was stonewalled by Hedberg. Elias took care of the rest with an empty net goal with just over a minute to play.
With the incredible opportunities the Flyers created in the third period, it was hard to believe that it was the very same team that took the ice. Head Coach Peter Laviolette expressed how important playing a full game can be for the Flyers.
“We didn’t have what they had [in the first period]. I thought they took it to us in most areas, the second period I thought we were much more competitive, and in the third period I liked what we did”, the Flyers’ second year coach said. “They played a consistent game for three periods, we played two or three, and the first ended up costing us.”
With a flight to Chicago for a Stanley Cup rematch with the Blackhawks awaiting the team immediately after the game, it seemed plausible that they overlooked New Jersey.
Defenseman Kimmo Timonen didn’t hesitate to shoot down the idea.
“We were sleeping for the first half of the game,” he explained in frustration. “I don’t think you can be looking forward, we just weren’t ready to play.”
It wasn’t just the Flyers that realized their first period was subpar, as the Philadelphia crowd showered the team with boos as they headed to the locker room.
“[The fans] have high expectations for us and so do we,” goalie Brian Boucher said. “We weren’t happy with that first period and I guess we deserved to get booed off the ice. I think that was a wakeup call.”
Unfortunately, that wakeup call came a period too late.