ECSF Game 3 Recap: Devils ride the Poni Express to victory

2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2, New Jersey Devils vs Philadelphia Flyers

(‘Poni Express’ was submitted by @Dan_Flannel, @SalScialabba and @MichaelPacholek)

Three stars of the game:

3rd star: Daniel Briere (Goal, assist)

2nd star: Ilya Kovalchuk (Goal, 2 assists)

1st star: Alexei Ponikarovsky (Game winning OT goal, assist)

There’s been an ongoing trend in these playoffs for both the Flyers and Devils.  That trend is that the team who gets off to a good start and scores first doesn’t always win.  That’s been the case in each of the first two games of this series, and it was true again in Game 3 at the Prudential Center.  As the puck dropped on Thursday night, it was the visiting Flyers who controlled play in the opening minutes, it was the Flyers who drew the game’s first power play and it was the Flyers who scored the game’s first goal on the power play.  But the Flyers didn’t win.  So here’s how the Devils won Game 3 and took a 2-1 series lead.

Eleven seconds after missing a good scoring chance, backhanding the puck wide of Ilya Bryzgalov from the right side, Adam Henrique was sent off for tripping Wayne Simmonds, and the Flyers had a power play.  What’s unusual about Henrique’s penalty is that he’s now taken three minor penalties in 10 playoff games after taking one single minor penalty in 74 regular season games.  Anyway, Henrique’s third penalty of the playoffs resulted in Daniel Briere feeding Brayden Schenn from the left circle, and Schenn beating Martin Brodeur short-side to give the Flyers the worst possible lead in this series: 1-0.

The Devils responded well after the Flyers’ goal.  They would outshoot Philly for the remainder of the period, and outscore them in the process.  At 12:09, Braydon Coburn tripped Dainius Zubrus, and 14 seconds later, the game was tied.  From the left side, Ilya Kovalchuk sent the puck to Marek Zidlicky, who one-touched it to Patrik Elias in an umbrella power play formation.  Elias patiently walked in, faked a slapshot before shooting, and completely fooled Bryzgalov.  It took 20 seconds for the Devils to strike again.  Travis Zajac led a rush with Alexei Ponikarovsky and Ilya Kovalchuk, and Zajac drew two defensemen to him, which left Kovalchuk wide open.  Ilya waited up high before breaking to the net, and Zajac passed it to Kovalchuk, who beat Bryzgalov between his pads.

The 2-1 score carried into the second period.  Early in the second period, the Devils nearly took a 3-1 lead, as Adam Henrique picked off an errant pass before skating in all alone on Bryzgalov.  Henrique shot the puck, trying to beat Bryzgalov five-hole, but the save was made.  “Remember that save,” said everyone, because without that save, the Flyers wouldn’t have been able to tie the game shortly after.  Jakub Voracek skated to Brodeur’s right behind the net, and found Matt Carle pinching in, and Carle one-timed the puck past Brodeur, glove side as the Flyers did tie the game.  That was the extent of the second period scoring, although the period also featured an angry Ilya Kovalchuk after a controversial and wrongfully called delay of game penalty and a just-as-questionable call on Brayden Schenn after he bumped into Brodeur, knocking him over.  The Flyers outplayed the Devils for much of the period, but the Devils were able to calm the storm and limit Philly to their one goal during the middle frame.

But just as each of the past four Devils playoff games have been, this game was tied in the third period.  Three of the prior four had gone to overtime and the Devils had won three of those games.  The Devils had several chances to take a 3-2 lead early in the period, and they finally did at the 7:29 mark.  Another good pass from Marek Zidlicky to Patrik Elias started a rush through the neutral zone.  Elias stopped behind the Flyers’ net and dropped it to Zach Parise, who skated to Bryzgalov’s left and stuffed the puck home to give the Devils a 3-2 lead.  Minutes later, Kovalchuk again skated in and rang the puck off the crossbar.  Instead of a 4-2 Devils score, the Flyers went the other way and tied the game.  Brodeur fought off James van Riemsdyk’s initial shot, but left a big rebound to Briere, who beat Marty from a tough angle.

So, with the game tied after two periods, we had another overtime game.  After five minutes of scoreless overtime, we had a shootout.  Actually, we had more overtime.  Brodeur was busy at the start of overtime, as the Flyers tested him early and often.  At 8:23 of overtime, Zubrus was sent to the penalty box for a very soft boarding call.  The Devils were able to survive the Flyers’ power play because of Mark Fayne clearing the puck…with Zach Parise’s stick after Fayne’s stick broke.  Four minutes later, they had to kill another penalty, as Bryce Salvador threw the puck over the glass in the Devils’ zone.  The Flyers managed one shot on the two power plays combined.

The Devils gained some momentum after killing the two penalties and started to generate some offense and forecheck stronger in the Flyers’ zone.  That’s how the winning goal started.  After a strong shift by Kovalchuk in the offensive zone, the Flyers tried to change lines quickly, but Kovalchuk, who had the puck in the neutral zone, made a heads-up play with a brilliant pass to spring Ponikarovsky and Andy Greene on a 2-on-1 rush.  Ponikarovsky skated in and wristed the puck from the right circle.  Bryzgalov fought it off, but allowed Ponikarovsky to bury the rebound and give the Devils a 4-3 win and a 2-1 series lead.  For Ponikarovsky, it comes as his first goal of the playoffs and second point of the game.

The win guarantees the Devils another home playoff game after Sunday night’s Game 4.  It also gives the Devils a chance to take a 3-1 series lead on Sunday.  The Devils certainly deserved to win the game, as their forecheck looked as dominant as it was in Game 2 at times.  The Devils were able to contain the offensive push of the Flyers, and they’ll need to do that twice more to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

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Posted on May 4, 2012, in New Jersey Devils and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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