NEWARK, N.J. -- Oh you can call this a one-goal game with an empty-netter thrown in for good measure. And history will remember the New Jersey Devils' 4-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday night as such, but this one was a rout by any standard except the scoreboard.
For the third straight game, the favored Flyers have had absolutely no answer for a skilled, tenacious Devils team that controlled the puck and pushed the Flyers to the brink not just in the series -- which they lead 3-1 -- but emotionally as well.
"I think the whole game, they work harder, they win battles," offered Flyers center Claude Giroux. "It just looks like they want it more than us. It's frustrating because whole season we've been outworking every team and now it's the other way around. I don't know what to tell you."
The league's leading point-getter in the playoffs scored a shorthanded goal to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead at the 13:40 mark of the first period.
He also delivered a controversial illegal check to the head of Dainius Zubrus with 3.6 seconds left in the second period, which spoke volumes about where the Flyers are at in this series -- near the end of their rope.
Angered at a non-call when Martin Brodeur appeared to play the puck outside the trapezoid, Giroux chirped at officials and Devils players as he went back down the ice. Then after Zubrus chipped the puck deep into the Flyers' zone, Giroux clipped Zubrus in the chin with his shoulder.
The Devils forward, who had scored what would turn out to be the game-winner several minutes before, dropped to the ice after the hit but returned for the third period and scored an empty-net goal in the last minute to seal the victory.
There was much debate about whether the play warranted a more severe penalty on the ice and whether Giroux might be subject to supplemental discipline. Given the lack of injury on the play and Giroux's clean record vis-a-vis supplemental discipline it's unlikely there will be anything further from the league beyond a possible call or fine.
"I was trying to finish my hit and he kind of leaned in and kind of tried to chip the puck in," Giroux said. "I didn't see the replay so I don't know. Obviously I'm not a dirty player, I don't want to hit guys on the head but I was just trying to finish my hit there."
The talented center wasn't the only Flyer to lose his cool in the face of a Devils team that has held the Flyers to 10 or less shots in nine straight periods (not counting overtime in Game 3), periods which not surprisingly coincide with the Devils' three-game winning streak.
The Devils didn't miss a beat in spite of giving up the first two goals of the game as they continued to exploit what appear to be great flaws in the Flyers' defensive scheme.
They scored twice in less than three minutes late in the first period and, even though they led by just a goal heading into the third period, the lack of any offensive spark from the Flyers seemed to make the final outcome a foregone conclusion.
"They [are] really playing a solid game, really hard forechecking game and [it] looks like they're on us all the time. There's no time. We've got to figure out how to break that up," said Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who was forced into a holding penalty with fewer than four minutes to play in regulation to pretty much seal the Flyers' fate on this night.
Say this about the Flyers, for all of their disappointment they clearly have a healthy respect for their opponents. Guess that's what happens when a team eats your lunch for three straight games.
"They look fresher. They look like a team that wants it more," said Scott Hartnell, who vented his frustration after taking a questionable goaltender interference penalty late in the first period by tossing his gloves on the ice. Later in the third period he fired the puck down the ice after going after a Devils player following a stoppage in play.
"It's frustrating to see when you're trying to compete; almost every area, power play, their penalty kill's been great, they've [been] outhitting us, they're outshooting us, everything," Hartnell said.
Typically the Devils were extremely cautious about making any assumptions about how this will play out, regardless if history suggests they will soon be heading to the Eastern Conference finals.
"We've still got two [games] in their building," netminder Martin Brodeur said. "We were in their position in 2000, and we were able to come back and win Game 7. I don't put anything past them."
Brodeur celebrated his 40th birthday on Sunday with a relatively easy night, facing just 22 Flyers shots.
The Flyers are 1-14 in series in which they trail 3-1. The only time they've managed a comeback was two years ago when they completed a historic comeback against Boston after trailing 3-0 in the second round.
"Listen," added Patrik Elias who was also part of that fabled comeback against Eric Lindros and the Flyers a dozen years ago, "I've been in many of those [up 3-1]. You've got nothing until you win the fourth one."
Game 5 is Tuesday night in Philadelphia and, as Timonen pointed out a number of times after Game 4, "we've got a lot of work to do."
The Devils, on the other hand, have it all working. In this series, that's the great divide.