Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Missing note: G-less Flyers can't overcome Devils

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

Long after the events of the past season have been digested, one singular play by the person under the most intense scrutiny may unfortunately serve as the epitaph for a playoffs gone suddenly, horribly wrong.

Still, the image of Ilya Bryzgalov non-chalantly flipping the puck in the path of David Clarkson, the errant pass hitting the lower end of the shaft of his stick, and the rebound bouncing through the $51 million man's pads and settling inside the left post will surely haunt the corner of minds more attuned to the positive aspects of following this team.

But as it was, that blunder served as the game-winning goal, coming at the 12:45 mark of the first period, eventually sending the New Jersey Devils onto a 3-1 victory to close out the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5 of this Eastern Conference Semifinal.

"You have to ask Bryz about it," said Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who acknowledged his time to win a championship is growing shorter. "This is a game of making the most of mistakes. It was a mistake and it happens. It was one goal, but we needed to score more than just one. You can't win that way. We needed more."

That "more" couldn't have been laid at the feet of the 31-year-old Russian, who actually played better in the round just passed than he did in the win over Pittsburgh -- but still has nothing to show for it.

"I saw him coming and I wanted to put the puck in the corner for Kimmo to start back up," Bryzgalov said. "It's a bad bounce unfortunately because it could have gone anywhere -- in the corner, higher, lower, but it goes straight between the legs."

Ilya Kovalchuk put the final nail in the coffin with a power-play score with five minutes played in the third period, and the Devils move on to the Eastern Finals for the first time since winning it all back in 2003.

Martin Brodeur withstood an early burst and surrendered the opening goal of the contest, but rebounded to win thanks to 27 saves.

"It doesn't matter to me. Every year I was here that we won the Stanley Cup we were the underdogs," Brodeur admitted. "We know what we're capable of accomplishing and we don't need a pat on the back from anyone to feel good about ourselves."

New Jersey has a wait of at least five days ahead, since their third-round foes won't be revealed until the Capitals-Rangers series is completed. New York has a 3-2 lead with Game 6 scheduled for Washington tomorrow night. A potential Game 7 won't occur until Saturday in Manhattan.

There would be no kind of math, no faith, hope or charity that could will the hosts to victory and keep the fires burning for what would have been Game 6 in Newark on Thursday night.

The loss of Claude Giroux to a one-game suspension due to losing his composure at the worst possible time on Sunday, the swarming opposition forwards and the superiority and execution of their game plan was simply too much to overcome.

"We were thinking we would walk over Jersey. Its kind of our fault a little bit. We have to learn from that," said the 24-year-old burgeoning star, who was in street clothes for the final handshake and attended to his postgame duties with grace.

He'd finish the best season of his four-year NHL career with 110 combined points, including eight goals and 17 points in 10 appearances over two rounds. That leads all current players still active in the postseason.

Nonetheless, this ragtag bunch of Calder Trophy seekers, wily veterans and one spaced-out backstop provided a quote-a-minute, 40-win, 100-point year the likes of which we're never likely to witness again.

"I can tell you that the group that's in that room right now is a terrific group of men," said Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette, once again offering few words of explanation in defeat. They played hard this year, they gave a lot and we came up short. It's a bright future and we're looking forward to that but tonight it's disappointing."

Zac Rinaldo, Giroux's erstwhile replacement, did make the most of his 8:43 of ice time. He left a deep impression in the first period, levelling Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov with a high, though ultimately clean, hit which stirred up echoes of Brayden Schenn's destruction of Pittsburgh's Paul Martin several weeks back.

But what the Orange and Black sorely needed was offense, and Rinaldo was pale shelter next to the impact and leadership of the team's leading scorer.

The Flyers ended the series with a scant 11 goals, an alarming drop from the 30 in the opening round.

Max Talbot earned his keep, netting Philly's lone score of the contest, a second-chance rebound job over a sprawled Brodeur just 7:18 into the contest, but that was the only successful salvo. It wasn't nearly enough, even coupled with the 27 saves Bryzgalov did make, to keep this roller-coaster campaign chugging up one more hill.

New Jersey committed one penalty all night -- an interference minor to Adam Larsson early in the second period that was brushed aside by his teammates -- and stood like the natural feature whose image graces its home arena in the face of an onslaught.

It didn't help that more than a little luck on the wrong side factored into the victory.

Behind by a goal, the Devils managed to steal away some momentum and take the air out of a vociferous sell-out crowd when Bryce Salvador's left-point shot from an Adam Henrique face-off win deflected off the stick of Wayne Simmonds, hit the crossbar and settled home.

The fateful marker, coming just 2:09 after Talbot's opener, gave the visitors some life, and then the gaffe which rewarded Clarkson effectively put the psychological advantage firmly on New Jersey's side.

"I don't know how it happens, but you try to you try to force the goalie (into doing something he doesn't want to do). I didn't even know it went in until the crowd started booing," Clarkson said. It was a pretty good feeling knowing it went in."

Philadelphia mustered only seven shots in the second period, enjoyed some brief bursts of pressure in the third, and can at least take some pleasure in depriving Brodeur of a final insult in a possible attempt at a score with the net vacated.

Notes: The Devils have now won three of the five all-time playoff series against the Flyers, and have evened the total victories between the clubs at 14 apiece...Having also won two games in Philadelphia during the set, New Jersey assumed an 8-7 lead in playoff games here...The Flyers fell to 1-6 in these playoffs when scoring the first goal...Jersey improved to 22-16 in Game 5s...Andrej Meszaros returned to action for the first time since March 1, played 19:26 and recorded two shots...James van Riemsdyk was a game-worst minus-3 in 10:46 of ice time...Each of the last two times New Jersey beat the Flyers in the postseason, it went on to win the Stanley Cup (1995, 2000)...Including the 2010 series against Boston, Philly fell to 5-11 in second-round games over the last three postseasons...The loss marked the 11th time in Flyers franchise history that it dropped four straight games within one best-of-seven playoff series.
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