Different game. Same result.
The Flyers avoided getting pinned down in their own zone for long stretches. They avoided going what seemed like an eternity without a shot on goal. But they still came out on the short end of a 3-1 score against the visiting New Jersey Devils, who eliminated the Flyers from the playoffs with this Game 5 victory.
The Devils, who won four straight games after losing the series opener, await the outcome of the Rangers-Capitals series to find out their opponent in the Eastern Conference finals. The Rangers lead the series, 3-2.
“You’ve got to give the Devils credit,” Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette said. “They played a very good brand of hockey at both ends of the ice.”
The Flyers, who were riding a wave of emotion after ousting the Pittsburgh Penguins, the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, in the opening round, begin their offseason trying to figure out what went wrong.
There was no questioning the Flyers’ emotion in Game 5. The Flyers delivered numerous crushing body checks. Zac Rinaldo, added to the lineup due to the one-game suspension to Claude Giroux for a Game 4 check to Dainius Zubrus’ head, set the aggressive tone by crushing Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov with a clean check in the first period. Volchenkov crumpled to the ice near the boards, although he was caught on camera apparently sneaking a peek to see if a penalty was going to be called.
The Flyers also struck first on the scoreboard, with Maxime Talbot scoring off a scramble in front of Devils goalie Martin Brodeur 7:18 into the first period. Amazingly, the team that has scored first has lost 10 of the 11 playoff games involving the Flyers. The one exception was Game 6 of the Penguins series, when the Flyers built upon an early lead and finished off the series.
The Devils struck back just 2:09 later when Bryce Salvador’s shot deflected off Wayne Simmonds’ stick and fluttered over goalie Ilya Bryzgalov’s shoulder to even the score, 1-1. Salvador, who did not score during the regular season, scored twice during the series with the Flyers, once into an empty net.
The Flyers had a legitimate complaint that Salvador’s goal should not have counted. When Adam Henrique carried the puck into the zone, Alexei Ponikarovsky, who was straddling the blue line, clearly picked up his left skate, leaving his right skate on the ice in the offensive zone, which should have constituted an offside call. But play carried on, and Henrique fed a pass across the ice to Salvador, who scored the goal.
There wasn’t any controversy on the Devils’ go-ahead goal, which came 3:18 later. Kimmo Timonen played the puck back to Bryzgalov. The Flyers’ goalie tried to shoot the puck past a charging David Clarkson, but the puck hit the shaft of the Devils winger’s stick and deflected past Bryzgalov into the net.
“That goal stung,” Laviolette said. “It hurt.
“That’s more of an unfortunate bounce than anything else.”
The unfortunate bounce, which was the result of a poor decision by Bryzgalov (27 saves), who had Braydon Coburn open to his right, but elected to try a long pass up the middle.
(notice the non-call on interference on Danny Briere at the beginning of this sequence)
Bryzgalov’s error and Timonen’s questionable decision to play the puck to his goalie ended up putting the Flyers behind for good. They had a few close calls, but the Devils, as is their custom, didn’t allow many scoring opportunities.
“With one goal, you don’t usually win,” Timonen said.
The Flyers couldn’t muster another goal against Brodeur, who finished with 27 saves. They had a rare power play against the Devils when Adam Larsson was called for interference 2:11 into the second period, but, without Giroux, their power play was ineffective.
The Flyers didn’t get another power play. Larsson’s penalty was the only one assessed to New Jersey despite Volchenkov’s check to the head of Brayden Schenn, another cross-check into the boards by Volchenkov and a fairly obvious too-many-men-on-the-ice infraction. The Flyers were penalized four times during Game 5, meaning 9 of the last 10 penalties in the series were against the Flyers.
But the Flyers had no room for complaints on their final penalty, an obvious – and unnecessary – holding penalty on James van Riemsdyk as he went toward the bench for a line change. It took just four seconds for the Devils to take advantage. A face-off win got the puck back to the dangerous Ilya Kovalchuk, who blasted a slap shot past Bryzgalov.
As the Flyers found out the hard way, a two-goal lead for the Devils is a lot harder to overcome than a two-goal lead for the Penguins. Consequently, the Flyers’ season is over earlier than they had hoped.