WHAT IT MEANS: The New Jersey Devils advanced to the NHL’s version of the Final Four.
And, rather stunningly, they did so with relative ease.
Ilya Kovalchuk had a power-play goal and an assist, Martin Brodeur made 27 saves, and the Devils moved on to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2003, rolling past the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-1, in Game 5 on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center to win the series in five games.
The Devils (8-4) are now 10-0 all-time when taking a 3-1 playoff series lead -- including 7-3 in Game 5s.
New Jersey was viewed by many as an underdog heading into the series. But the Devils relished that role, and took it to Philadelphia night in and night out to move within four wins of playing in their first Stanley Cup Final since ’03.
Kovalchuk led the Devils with seven points (two goals, five assists) during the series, while Brodeur (8-3 2012 postseason, 107-85 all-time) went 4-1 between the pipes.
Claude Giroux served his one-game suspension for hitting Dainius Zubrus in Game 4. The suspension was thought to be a galvanizing force for the Flyers. It wasn’t. In fact, it was anything but.
THE DIFFERENCE: The Devils lost Game 1 in overtime, but overcame the absence of Kovalchuk to take Game 2, and turn the tide of the series.
The Devils’ dogged 5-on-5 forecheck bothered Philadelphia, as did their regular-season record-setting penalty-kill. The Flyers scored 12 man-advantage goals in upsetting the Penguins, but were held to just 3-for-19 on the power-play by New Jersey.
NICE, BRYCE: Bryce Salvador had no goals during the regular season and entered the playoffs having not scored since March 20, 2010. He now has two markers in the postseason. Just 2:19 after Philadelphia took a 1-0 lead, the defensive-minded d-man tied the game with a wrister from the top of the right circle in the first period.
GOALIE GAFFE: Whoops! Ilya Bryzgalov misplayed the puck in front right to David Clarkson, who deflected it into the net, giving the Devils a 2-1 lead at 12:45 of the first. It was Clarkson’s second game-winner of the series. The $51 million man has never been known for his puck-playing ability. That won’t be changing anytime soon, either.
Brodeur nearly had a Bryzgalov moment in the second, but Danny Briere hit the post. Bryzgalov did, however, stone Zach Parise out in front late in the middle frame.
TONE SETTER: Zac Rinaldo drilled Anton Volchenkov in the corner 6:08 into the first period, leaving the dazed defenseman face-down on the ice. Volchenkov headed to the dressing room, but returned later in the frame.
Rinaldo was called for a two-minute kneeing penalty in the second that hurt Zubrus briefly. The right winger also went to the dressing room briefly before coming back.
SCORE OF DEATH: The Flyers went 1-6 when scoring first in the playoffs, an NHL record, according to Elias; 4-0 when giving up the first goal. So, when Max Talbot put Philadelphia up 1-0 7:18 in, it wasn’t exactly a good omen for what was to come.
ONE DOWNER: Marek Zidlicky, checked hard by Wayne Simmonds in the second period, did not return.
LINEUP: Ryan Carter returned to the lineup after missing Game 4 due to sickness. He replaced Tim Sestito. Everything else remained the same.
UP NEXT: Devils vs. Rangers/Capitals series winner, TBD