By Joseph Santoliquito
NEWARK, NJ (CBS) — Ilya Bryzgalov made a furtive, sideways glance through his goalie cage and slammed his stick on the ice after giving up a goal as if blaring out, “What’s next!” The Flyers’ goalie didn’t know what to do, and neither did the Flyers.
Everything the Flyers do in this best-of-seven NHL Eastern Conference semifinal series the New Jersey Devils have been there to counteract it.
New Jersey erased a two goal Flyers lead by answering with the next four in surging to a 3-1 series lead with a 4-2 victory on Sunday night at the Prudential Center.
The Flyers will be playing for their season Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. when series returns to the Wells Fargo Center for Game 5.
“It looks like they want it more than us,” Flyers’ star Claude Giroux said. “It’s frustrating because the whole season we’ve been outworking every team and now it’s the other way around. I don’t know what to tell you. The whole game they were all over us. We have to find a way to play better. That’s not acceptable the way we’re playing right now. We obviously know we can come back. We just have to find a way to play better, because right now, the way we’re playing, we’re not going to win any games.”
In Game 4, the portents that it could be a tough night for the Flyers came early when it looked as if there were 10 Devils on the ice by the high-energy way they attacked the Flyers. It concerned Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette to the point that he called a timeout just 4:32 into the game.
New Jersey went back to what’s been so effective in winning Games 2 and 3. The Devils took away the passing lanes. The Flyers have been mystified by the Devils’ forecheck.
They kept coming at the Flyers in waves, outshooting the Flyers 4-1 in the first eight minutes.
But it was the Flyers’ Scott Hartnell that struck first, getting the Flyers on the board with the game’s first goal. About two minutes later Giroux penetrated the Devils’ end and popped home a short-handed goal to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead.
That edge, however, was short-lived.
The Devils’ Petr Sykora answered with a powerplay goal, and Marek Zidlicky tipped in the tying goal in the last two minutes of the first period.
Again, New Jersey’s dominance manifested itself by keeping the Flyers pinned in their end. In Game 2, when the Flyers went nearly an entire period without getting a shot on goal, it looked like a 20-minute powerplay with waves of Devils coming at Bryzgalov.
Things got a little chippy late in the second. Giroux’s frustration boiled over after reacting to what he thought was a missed call by driving his right shoulder into former Flyer Dainius Zubrus’ chin in the last minute of the second.
The lulls without getting a shot on goal have been an ongoing theme for the Flyers. Down by a goal, the Flyers didn’t get their initial shot on goal of the third period until there was 14:05 left in the game—thanks to the hustle of Hartnell behind the net.
This followed a horrible second period in what seemed like a period-long powerplay, when the Devils started the period outshooting the Flyers 11-0 before Brayden Schenn flicked a harmless shot at Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur with 7:15 left. After two periods, New Jersey had outshot the Flyers 32-12 (and 43-22 in the game).
Bryzgalov’s steady play kept the Flyers in the game. He finished with 39 saves.
“We’re letting Bryz play by himself, and if it wasn’t for him, we would have gotten killed tonight,” Giroux said. “It’s frustrating to see, including myself, we’re not winning battles and we’re always playing in our own zone. We need to find a way to play better. I don’t think it’s a matter of the effort. It’s the way we’re working. We should know what we’re supposed to do out there. We’ve been playing the same system the whole year. There’s not one guy out there who’s going to quit. We have to go one game at a time and guys in this room like to come back. Hopefully, the comeback kids can do it again.”
Finally, the Devils’ relentless pressure broke through with 2:13 remaining in the second, when Zubrus was the benefactor of a Flyers’ turnover behind the Flyers’ net.
“It’s been three games where we haven’t skated the way we can we skate, and to me, everything starts with skating,” Flyers’ defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. “When we skate, we’re a really good team. But when we don’t, everything goes out the window. I have to give a lot of credit to them. They’re really playing a very hard-forechecking game. It looks like they’re on us all of the time. There’s no time, and we have to figure out how to break that up.”
That’s indicative as to why the Flyers are down 3-1 in the series. Through the first two periods, the Flyers had turned to the puck over 14 times, to the Devils’ five turnovers.
“They’re not surprising us, it’s just frustrating the way we’re playing,” Hartnell said. “We’re playing soft hockey. We’re playing almost scared to take a hit or make a play. We’re getting pushed off the puck way too easy. That leads us to playing more defense all of the time. That’s why they’re looking like they’re dominating us, just soft, stupid plays. We can really count on one hand how many battles we’ve won in four games. It’s no surprise why we’re down 3-to-1.”