By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—The shots and the pressure were bound to throw the Flyers into a quandary. They were able to escape the lapses in play and concentration in the first period of Game 1 against the New Jersey Devils, but on Tuesday, the Flyers weren’t able to squirm free this time.
This time, the Devils rendered the Flyers invisible. This time, everything that worked in the first game for the Flyers fell into reverse in Game 2.
David Clarkson’s goal with 8:43 left to play proved to be the winning difference as the Devils exploded for four third-period goals en route to a 4-1 victory over the Flyers in Game 2 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference semifinals at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Devils now take home-ice advantage and evened the best-of-seven series at 1-1 going back to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for Game 3.
The Devils dominated much of the game, including the second period, when the Flyers went into an offensive funk. The Devils’ forechecking, coupled with the Flyers’ poor decision-making in getting the puck out of their own zone, created a lull for Philadelphia. The deadzone also happened in Game 1, when the Devils dominated the first 10 minutes and outshot the Flyers 11-0.
This drought was more prolonged. The Flyers, however, staved off the New Jersey rushes thanks to Flyers’ goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. He was brilliant early on, making a number of big saves in the first and second periods. Though it seemed a matter of time before the Devils would snap the tenuous grip the Flyers had.
“We played the right way tonight,” said Devils’ star Zach Parise, who had an assist. “We put the puck in the right spots to forecheck and we made it tougher for them to break out. We didn’t do that in the first game against them and that’s what we need to do to win games. The Flyers have such good offensive players you have to be aware of everything around you. But if you pin them and trap them, and try and frustrate them, you can stop them. That’s what we did tonight.”
New Jersey’s Adam Larsson tied the score at 1-1 with 16:52 left to play. About eight minutes later, Clarkson added what resulted in the game-winning goal, and Travis Zajac supplied an insurance goal with 5:59 remaining in the game. Bryce Salvador capped it off with a Devils’ short-handed goal—his first playoff goal—with 2:51 left.
By then, empty seats dotted the Wells Fargo Center.
Until then, it was Bryzgalov that singlehandedly help up a 1-0 lead on a first-period Matt Read goal. Who’s to say what switches, hinges, levers and bolts toss, turn and slide inside Bryzgalov’s head. Sometimes listening to Bryzgalov speak, it seems he doesn’t even know. But inside that spacey-ness, aside from those wild sideways glances and references to bears in the woods lurks a pretty decent goaltender that could be brilliant at times.
Flyers’ fans saw a glimpse of just how good “Bryz” is in March, when he went one stretch establishing a Flyers’ franchise record by going 249 minutes and 43 seconds without giving up a goal.
So far in these playoffs, Bryzgalov has been pedestrian—at best. He has made the rare spectacular save, though it’s been the Flyers’ explosive offense that has carried them. At times this season, Bryzgalov has been the target of the fan’s scorn. He received the brunt of it in Game 4 of the Flyers’ opening-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins when he surrendered five goals on 18 shots.
On Tuesday night, those same fans loved him, chanting. “Bryz, Bryz, Bryz, Bryz.” Fans had no other choice, since it was Bryzgalov that kept the Flyers in the game, especially in the second period, when the Devils outshot the Flyers 12-0 for almost the entire period.
“We didn’t give them the respect that we needed to,” Read said. “New Jersey did a great job keeping us off the passing lanes and they really took it to us the last 40 minutes. It could have been much worse if not for Bryz. This is very disappointing. We came out and we didn’t do a lot of the little things.”
With 1:26 left in the second, the Flyers’ Claude Giroux finally got a shot on net. But it felt like an 18-minute, 34-second Devils’ powerplay, since much of that span came at even strength. New Jersey swarmed in the Flyers’ zone the entire time, pressuring Bryzgalov as the Flyers’ perplexed defense swirled around clueless. And the mantra began again “Bryz, Bryz, Bryz, Bryz!”
But as the Flyers left the ice in the second, they were greeted by a lusty chorus of boos—then received, no doubt, a good blistering by Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette during the second intermission.
More New Jersey stress unfolded and eventually produced the Devils’ four-goal third period. With little or no support, there was only so much Bryzgalov could do.