Bryce Salvador, David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk scored goals to lift New Jersey to a 3-1 Game 5 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, sending the Devils into the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2003.
Martin Brodeur was strong in goal and has the Devils back in position to win their fourth Stanley Cup. The Devils await the winner of the New York Rangers-Washington Capitals series. The Devils rebounded this season under coach Peter DeBoer after missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996 last season.
The sixth-seeded Devils scored twice in the first period and became the first East team to win four straight games in these playoffs.
“It was just sticking with the game plan and doing what it takes to be successful,” DeBoer said. “Marty made some saves when he needed to, and we held on.”
Max Talbot scored for the Flyers, but Philadelphia was eliminated in the conference semifinals for the second straight season. The Flyers finished the season without suspended All-Star forward Claude Giroux because of his illegal check to the head on New Jersey center Dainius Zubrus in Game 4.
The Flyers underwent a facelift last summer that saw them trade team captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings and acquire goalie Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Kings and Coyotes will play in the West finals while the Flyers watch from home.
The Flyers again failed in the postseason to hold a quick lead after Talbot scored in the first. The Devils also survived a rugged series of hits unleashed by a frustrated Flyers team that failed to build anything off their first-round victory over Pittsburgh. Anton Volchenkov, Marek Zidlicky and Zubrus all suffered punishing hits that knocked them down on the ice in Game 5.
Bryzgalov had a disheartening end to an erratic first season in Philadelphia. He allowed two YouTube-worthy goals like only he can.
Salvador unleashed a shot from outside the circle that skipped along the ice as if he threw a rock across a pond and sailed high over Bryzgalov for the tying goal.
In a season loaded with head-scratching tallies allowed, Bryzgalov saved the weirdest for the finale. Clarkson's shot on Bryzgalov was deflected off the goalie stick straight back at the forechecking forward. Bryzgalov only looked him behind in disbelief after Clarkson knocked it right into the net.
The Devils could credit Bryzgalov with the assist on that goal.
Kovalchuk fired a liner from the high slot after the Devils won the faceoff to make it 3-1 in the third to seal the win. From there, New Jersey's depth took over and stuffed any hope of a home team rally.
“The fact that we have four lines and roll six defensemen really helps,” DeBoer said. “It's a team game. We play that way, and guys really believe in what we're doing. But that's a good team we just beat over there, and we have a long way to go.”
All the inspirational “Rocky” clips on their highlight reel couldn't inspire the Flyers. Even Giroux's presence may not have even mattered in Game 5.
Without their leading scorer, the Flyers tried to knock around the Devils with a series of both clean and questionable hits.
Zac Rinaldo stayed on his skates when he charged full speed with his right shoulder and crushed Volchenkov against the boards. Volchenkov was down on his knees for several minutes before he gingerly walked to the bench.
“That's my bread and butter right there,” Rinaldo said. “That's what I feed off of and that's what gets the boys going. We got a goal off it so we just have to keep it going and keep positive.”
The hit sparked a short dose of momentum when Talbot won a fight for the puck in front of the crease to score moments later for a 1-0 lead. But that was it for the Flyers' offense. Brodeur snared a Talbot slapper late in the period for one of his 27 saves.
Rinaldo delivered a stiff knee to Zubrus in the second. Wayne Simmonds creamed Zidlicky in the corner that left the defenseman sprawled on the ice.
The hits meant nothing more than a brief roar from the crowd, though. Late in the third, the Flyers fans made an early exit — much like their team. The Flyers haven't won the Stanley Cup since winning consecutive championships in 1974 and 1975.
The Devils have won six of seven and believe they have another title run in them. This is the third time in franchise history New Jersey has defeated Philadelphia. The previous two times (1995 and 2000), the Devils went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Brodeur, who turned 40 this series, has gone from answering questions about retirement to ones about another chase for the Cup. He has been in net for all three of New Jersey's titles, including 2003, the franchise's last one.
The Devils hope they can ride him all the way to June ... again.
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