The Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center looked to take a 2-0 lead on their Eastern Conference Semi-Final series against the Devils, and an early goal by rookie Matt Read, and 40-minutes of shutout hockey by netminder Ilya Bryzgalov made it look almost too easy. But the Devils were able to muster four third period goals to tie the series at one-game apiece against a Flyers team that looked listless at times in this one.
It took only 2:53 of the first period for the Flyers to get on the board, as Read scored his third goal of the playoffs, on a second effort shot from fellow rookie Brayden Schenn.
The Flyers’ penalty kill was buzzing in the first period, cutting off passes and generating a number of chances going the other way. And the best penalty killer on the night was in net. Bryzgalov was tested early and looked sharp, including a breakaway chance by Devils captain Zach Parise, who finished the night with an assist and a plus-one rating.
But after 20-minutes of play, the ice appeared tilted in the Devils favor. The visitors mustered 12 shots in the middle stanza, many of them coming off of Flyer turnovers in their own zone. Bryzgalov saw a lot of rubber in the second, and needed to make more than a few big saves in close. He looked strong, and often times unbeatable, but the Flyers’ skaters continued to let their goaltender down.
“Definitely, I think we just didn’t have the jump in the second or third period,” said rookie Eric Wellwood, who led all Flyers in shots on the night with four. “I think after the first period it’s like the game is over and you know the game is not over until the buzzer goes. It lasts 60 minutes and next game we are going to have to play the full 60.”
While allowing an assault on their own netminder by the Devils offense, the Flyers didn’t muster a shot of their own until 1:25 remaining in the second, and they had only two shots total in the second period and narrowly escaped holding on to a 1-0 lead.
“Yeah, without [Bryzgalov] it could have been dangerous out there,” said Read. “They took it to us the last 40 minutes of the game. He kept it close for us and gave us a chance to win and if he plays like that any given night it gives us a better opportunity to win.”
It took only 3:08 into the third period for the Devils to tie things up. The teams were playing a little 4-on-4, and rookie Adam Larsson, playing in his first game of these playoffs, fired a shot up over Bryzgalov’s shoulder to get his team on the board.
After that, the wheels began falling off, and the Devils looked relentless on their attack of Bryzgalov. The Flyers scrambled in their own zone, turning over pucks and failing clears until a rebound shot by David Clarkson, who finished the night with three shots and three hits, beat Bryzgalov on the short side.
The Flyers netminder responded by throwing his stick and catching-glove in frustration, but it wouldn’t help.
The Devils leader in points in the playoffs Travis Zajac made it a two goal game on a wraparound try with the Flyers defense in a desperate chase mode around their own net.
While on a late game power play, the Flyers left their net empty for six attackers, and Devils checking defenseman Bryce Salvador scored his first goal of these playoffs while just trying to chip the puck out of the zone. The empty net shortie wasn’t needed for the win, but it was a final insult in a game in which the Flyers never found their legs.
The best Flyer on the ice was clearly Bryzgalov, who stopped 31 shots, and handled a number of tough stops, including four each from Marek Zidlicky, Parise, Peter Harrold and Adam Henrique. The Flyers have a fast offense, and a rugged forecheck, to go along with a healthy defense. If they can get all of their pieces working for 60-minutes, they should have no problem putting together some wins in this series.
In the regular season, the Flyers garnered a reputation as the come-back kids after allowing the first goal of the game, sometimes on the first shot of the game, and using the second and third periods to come back and win more often than not. So far, in the playoffs, they’re 1-3 when scoring first, and 4-0 when allowing the first goal. It’s a strange statistic and it appears as if the Flyers can’t play hard unless they need to.
If the team wants to win this series and move on to the conference final, they’ll need to find the same desperation they had in Game 6 of the first round that saw them score first and never look back against the Pens. If not, this’ll be a much harder series than it should be.
“It wasn’t just the offense, it was three zones,” said Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette. “They were quicker, they were more competitive on the puck then we were. There are times when a goaltender stands on his head like that and you’re able to squeak one out, but often times it doesn’t last or it doesn’t hold up. In the end, the results are just based on our play. Bryz, he was phenomenal tonight but we have to do a better job in front of him.”
There were some late-game hostilities between Clarkson, Max Talbot, Andreas Lilja and Wayne Simmonds that could impact the start of the next game. Game 3 of the series begins this Thursday in New Jersey, and the Flyers will be looking to get back on track.