Friday, May 04, 2012

Devils take Game 3 in OT, and 2-1 series lead

Special to the Phanatic

Wasted opportunities are becoming a thorn in the side of the Philadelphia Flyers.

After failing on two straight power plays in the extra session, Alexei Ponikarovsky scored with 2:39 left in overtime to give the New Jersey Devils a 4-3 decision in Game 3 of this Eastern Conference semifinal series from Prudential Center.

Ilya Kovalchuk, who sat out Game 2 with a lower body injury, made a stretch pass from his own zone to Ponikarovsky while the Flyers were making a line change. Ponikarovsky skated down the right wing on a 2-on-1 and his initial shot was stopped by Ilya Bryzgalov, but he got his own rebound and backhanded the rolling disc home inside the near post for the win.

Kovalchuk posted a goal and two assists while Ponikarovsky and Patrik Elias each had a goal and an assist for the Devils, who took a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven series. Martin Brodeur posted 25 saves for the 105th win of his playoff career.

"We've set ourselves up well, but at the same time, we can enjoy this victory tonight and then come back at it and get ready for Sunday," said Elias. "We have to focus on that and leave the rest behind."

Brayden Schenn, Matt Carle and Danny Briere each scored for the Flyers, who failed to hold an early lead, rallied in the third period but ultimately lost their first overtime contest in three tries this postseason. Bryzgalov didn't need to stand on his head, and acquitted himself well after stopping 27 shots in the loss.

"Unfortunately we couldn't capitalize in overtime and there's nothing you can do about that," said Bryzgalov. "We just have to come back tomorrow and prepare for the next game."

A pivotal Game 4 returns to The Rock on Sunday evening, and it may be in the Orange and Black's best interest not to start well early, as they are 4-0 in these playoffs when the opponent scores first.

The initial power play of the game went to the Flyers and they took advantage of it. Good work behind the New Jersey net saw Briere come away with the puck and skated to the left. He then sent a pass to the left circle where Schenn one-timed it through on the short side at the 6:08 mark.

The Devils, though, roared back with a pair of goals just 20 seconds apart later in the first period to take the lead.

Skating on the power play, Elias got the puck at the right point and skated into to the circle. From there, he showed a veteran's confidence to thread his shot through traffic and past Bryzgalov's blocker on the far side at the 12:33 mark.

On the ensuing shift, Travis Zajac fired a pass from the left wing to the slot where a wide-open Kovalchuk skated in alone and beat Bryzgalov to the glove side for his fourth goal of the playoffs.

The only goal of the second period belonged to Philadelphia as Jakub Voracek skated behind the New Jersey net and came out to the left side where he passed it to the circle and Carle blasted a one-timer through a screen set up by Claude Giroux at the 4:44 mark.

Bryzgalov needed to make just four stops in the second period with his biggest one coming about two minutes in as he stoned Calder Trophy candidate and first-round overtime hero Adam Henrique on a breakaway.

The Devils took the lead at the 7:29 mark of the third as Elias sent a pass from the deep left boards back to the right where Zach Parise beat both Bryzgalov and Carle to the near post for a successful stuffer.

Philly, though, had the answer 3 1/2 minutes later. Shortly after Kovalchuk rang a shot off the left post, Briere brought the puck into the Devils zone down the left wing and left a drop pass from James Van Riemsdyk, who fired a shot on net. Brodeur stopped the shot, but the rebound sat to the left and Briere was there to chip it in for his league-leading eighth goal of the playoffs.

Notes: Briere's goal was the 50th of his postseason career...The home team has won just seven of the 20 overtime games in these playoffs...Philadelphia went 1- for-5 on the power play while New Jersey was 1-for-2...The two goals in 20 seconds was the fastest pair of goals in postseason history for the Devils. The former mark was 26 seconds on May 14, 2000 when Petr Sykora and Bobby Holik scored against the Flyers in Game 1 of that year's Eastern Conference Finals...Philadelphia rookie forward Sean Couturier left the game in the first period with a lower-body injury, and was later deemed to be "OK" enough to be available on Sunday...The team which has scored first in each games has gone on to lose that contest.
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