Devils seize control of series by dominating frustrated Flyers
The utter dominance of the Devils in their 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night wasn't captured by the 4-2 final score.
Not even close.
That story was best reflected in the reaction of a Flyer every time he kicked the boards, smashed his stick, threw his gloves, cheap-shotted a Devil or offered profane suggestions to unobliging officials.
Philadelphia is a frustrated team right now. Just over a week ago, the Flyers looked like the class of the East, having manhandled everyone's Cup favorites from Pittsburgh and facing an opponent that needed OT in Game 7 to get past the struggling Florida Panthers. Now, they're trailing their series 3-1 after being thoroughly outworked, outhit, outchanced and outclassed for the second game in a row.
If there's any reason for hope in Philly, it sure wasn't on display Sunday. And if this series goes the way it's headed, the Flyers can only blame themselves.
After Friday's Game 3 loss, some players, including this series' most invisible man, Jaromir Jagr, suggested that the Flyers might have taken the Devils lightly. OK, that sort of thing happens. It's human nature, right? But it's also the sort of hubris that should have been diminished after they'd narrowly escaped with a win in Game 1 ... or been slapped right out of them after losing Game 2. Instead, they've allowed the Devils to seize control of this set by taking their game to Philly. And man, did they bring it.
The Devils were flying from the start of Game 4, exacting a terrible toll with a forecheck that had the Flyers coughing up pucks and all but penned in their own end for the first 10 minutes until a pair of interference penalties slowed the assault. The second of them allowed the Flyers to take an unlikely lead when Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell double-screened Martin Brodeur, allowing Hartnell to tip home a Claude Giroux wrister at the 11:50 mark. Giroux made it 2-0 less than two minutes later with the Flyers short-handed, converting a brilliant Max Talbot breakout pass with a backhander over a sprawling Brodeur.
Stunning? You bet. And a lesser team might have lost its resolve facing that degree of scoreboard injustice.
Not these Devils.
"I think because of the way we started, how we were controlling the play, there was no panic when we got down by two," said New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer. "We just had to stick with the plan, get back on the forecheck and we knew we could recover."
They also managed to stay out of the box, forcing the Flyers to take the final five penalties of the game (three of which were drawn through the relentless efforts of Calder nominee Adam Henrique). And when the Devils got their forecheck back on track, the results followed. Petr Sykora halved the lead with a far side tip-in on the power play, then Marek Zidlicky drew them even at 18:09 when partner Bryce Salvador fed him for a backdoor one-timer.
At that point, the shots were 16-7 for the Devils. By the end of the second, it was 32-12, and they had grabbed the lead after Henrique chased down his own deflected pass into the corner and Braydon Coburn inexplicably chased after him, leaving Dainius Zubrus alone in front of Ilya Bryzgalov to make it 3-2.
A note here on Bryzgalov, who really (and unfairly) gave it to himself after letting that one in. This was the sort of performance the Flyers have been hoping to get from him all along. His 40 saves on the night captured both his steadiness and the inability of his teammates to offer reasonable protection. That count might have been halved if his defense could have prevented the second and third chances that the Devils were allowed to pounce on.
Still, trailing by just one entering the third, this game was ripe to be stolen by Philadelphia. But instead of playing desperate hockey, the Flyers simply lost control, frustrated further, perhaps, by New Jersey's adjustment to a defensive approach that mucked up the neutral zone and forced numerous turnovers.
At least the Flyers proved to be thoughtful guests, honoring Brodeur on his 40th birthday by offering him the gift of solitude. In fact, they didn't land a shot for a span of 16:23 from the first through the second period. In the end, they attempted fewer shots (33, including blocks and misses) than the 43 the Devils landed. That's an element they'll have to address if they want to get back to Newark for a Game 6. They'll also have to pick up their speed and do a better job of maintaining possession of the puck.
It's a tall task, given how well New Jersey is executing, one that looks even taller with Giroux likely to face supplemental discipline after he sent Zubrus crumbling to the ice with a head shot nearly two seconds after the Devil had given up the puck.
Giroux's effectiveness has been limited this series, but it could be crushing to Philadelphia's comeback chances if he's suspended. Zubrus returned to action -- ultimately clinching the game with an empty-netter -- but that probably won't get Giroux off the hook. Nor should it. He was raving after a non-call on Brodeur and was clearly looking for someone to take it out on.
Hockey's an emotional game, but Philadelphia's inability to contain theirs and remain focused on the task at hand is slowly strangling their chances in this series.
If they don't take care of that in time for Game 5, none of the other adjustments will matter.