May 1, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac (19) celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period of game two of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals at the Wells Fargo Center. The Devils defeated the Flyers 4-1, to tie the series at 1-1. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE
It was the perfect time for the Devils to collapse. Already down 1-0 in the series and without superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, they fell down 1-0 early in Game 2. But something happened, as New Jersey dug deep and put together a huge effort in the face of adversity.
For much of the regular season and playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers have shown the hockey world they have character and are oblivious to having the odds stacked against them. After losing a countless number of roster players at various times of the year, Philly has staged incomprehensible comebacks after being counted out early in the contest.
Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, it was the New Jersey Devils who showed the Flyers a thing or two about adversity and coming back.
After losing Sunday's Game 1 in overtime and learning hours before Tuesday's Game 2 that Ilya Kovalchuk wouldn't be available due to a "lower-body injury," the visitors seemed destined to head back to the Garden State trailing the series 2-0.
Going up against the top offensive club remaining in the postseason, things got off to a bad start for Martin Brodeur and company. Matt Read put a bad angle shot past the goaltender on a second effort, and the 1-0 lead seemed to spur on the home team.
With New Jersey missing its leading scorer, it was ripe for the picking. As the Flyers buzzed the Devils' cage, Danny Briere ripped a shot over Brodeur's left shoulder and off the crossbar. Eric Wellwood and the Philadelphia fourth line were pinning New Jersey deep in its own end with a furious forecheck. Philly was about to take a firm grasp on holding its home-ice advantage in the first two games.
But something changed on the way to an 0-2 series deficit for New Jersey, as it cranked up its effort and began to dominate territorial play.
After outshooting the Flyers by a 13-9 count in the first, the Devils suffocated Philadelphia in the middle frame. New Jersey took the first 12 shots of the second, and the Flyers weren't even able to muster a shot on goal until Claude Giroux put the puck on Brodeur with just 1:27 remaining in the stanza.
As a matter of fact, if it were not for Ilya Bryzgalov standing on his head for most of the session, the Flyers could well have been trailing heading into the third period instead of carrying a very tentative 1-0 lead.
It was the team that has historically been unspectacular offensively that just would not be denied in the end, even without Kovalchuk to lead the way back. The Devils kept chipping away, and it was only a matter of time before they broke through Bryzgalov's wall in front of the Philly cage.
Ironically, it was Adam Larsson, seeing his first playoff action because of Kovalchuk's absence after being a healthy scratch for New Jersey's first eight games of the second season, who would provide the blow that would spring a leak in the Flyers' dike. The rookie defenseman blew a shot up and over Bryzgalov's glove-hand side just more than three minutes into the final frame to tie the score, and the Devils kept pressuring.
The eventual game-winner came off the stick of David Clarkson on a rebound of Zach Parise's shot that was poke-checked away by Bryzgalov with less than nine minutes remaining in regulation, and the floodgates were opened.
Parise added another tally less than three minutes later, and blue liner Bryce Salvador closed out the scoring with a skipping, hopping shorthander from his own end that had a huge amount of english on it with Bryzgalov pulled for an extra attacker to seal the deal.
It was an inspired effort from a New Jersey team that overcame adversity and deserved the victory, outshooting Philadelphia, 35-20. The four Devils' goals in the third period sent a bold message to the Flyers that they won't go away quietly, and proved they can pull off a comeback triumph of their own.
Head coach Peter DeBoer wasn't surprised at all by his team's effort and resiliency. "I think we know the hole we're in if we lose tonight," stated the coach. "I think our backs are against the wall obviously with (Kovalchuk) out. I'm not surprised that we responded the way we did."
"I think that's what teams that are successful do," said Clarkson of the effort without the injured Kovalchuk. "When they have guys out, they find a way to come from behind or for young guys to step up. I think we did a great job. Obviously, we miss him (Kovalchuk). He's one of the best players in the world, but I thought we did some good things tonight."
New Jersey did do some very good things, tying up the series at 1-1 heading back to Newark, having wrestled home ice away from the Flyers.