The New Jersey Devils are back in the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in nine years after beating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 on Tuesday to clinch a 4-1 series victory.
Bryce Salvador, David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk scored the goals, while veteran goaltender Martin Brodeur was strong as the Devils continued their quest for their fourth Stanley Cup, a year after having missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.
The Devils await the winner of the New York Rangers-Washington Capitals series.
The sixth-seeded Devils became the first East team to win four straight games in the playoffs.
“It was just sticking with the game plan and doing what it takes to be successful,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “Marty made some saves when he needed to and we held on.”
Philadelphia were eliminated in the conference semi-finals for the second straight season. The Flyers finished the season without suspended All-Star forward Claude Giroux because of his illegal check to the head on New Jersey center Dainius Zubrus in Game 4.
The Flyers underwent a face-lift last summer that saw them trade team captain Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings and acquire goalie Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes. The Kings and Coyotes are playing in the West finals, while the Flyers watch from home.
The Flyers again failed in the postseason to hold a quick lead after Max Talbot scored in the first period. Philadelphia applied a rugged series of hits, with Anton Volchenkov, Marek Zidlicky and Zubrus all suffering punishing shots that knocked them down on the ice.
Bryzgalov had a disheartening end to an erratic first season in Philadelphia. He allowed two YouTube-worthy goals like only he can.
Salvador unleashed a shot from outside the circle that skipped along the ice as if he threw a rock across a pond and sailed high over Bryzgalov for the tying goal.
In a season loaded with head-scratching tallies allowed, Bryzgalov saved the weirdest for the finale. Clarkson’s shot on Bryzgalov was deflected off the goalie’s stick straight back at the forechecking forward. Bryzgalov looked behind in disbelief after Clarkson knocked it right into the net.
Kovalchuk fired a liner from the high slot after the Devils won the faceoff to make it 3-1 in the third to seal the win.
From there, New Jersey’s depth took over and they denied any hope of a rally by the hosts.
“The fact that we have four lines and roll six defensemen really helps,” DeBoer said. “It’s a team game. We play that way and guys really believe in what we’re doing, but that’s a good team we just beat over there and we have a long way to go.”