The latest overtime hero for the New Jersey Devils: Alexei Ponikarovsky. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New Jersey Devils tied up the series at 1-1 with a big 4-1 win in Game 2. Tonight, the series moved to the Rock and the Devils got the job done against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 3. It wasn't easy. It wasn't simple. It definitely wasn't straightforward. The Devils defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 in overtime to take a 2-1 series lead.
This game became the fourth game that went into overtime in the last five Devils playoff games. Needless to say, these games have been thrilling and agonizing; knowing one strange bounce or a broken play can end it all in the blink of an eye - for better or worse. The Devils won two of prior three overtime games with Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique each taking the title of overtime heroes. Tonight, a third Devil can now claim to that title: Alexei Ponikarovsky. He has had a quiet playoff series in my opinion. He was quite good in that important Game 7 against Florida; but not much outside of a few plays here and there. Even in this game, he didn't really stand out until overtime. He had three of the six shots the Devils got in overtime; his last two being the most important. Ponikarovsky decided to shoot on a two-on-one, fired a hard one, and it bounced right back to him because he followed his shot. One little flick and it's behind Ilya Byrzgalov, sending his teammates, his coaches, and almost everyone the Rock into ecstatic cheers. Ponikarovsky came up big this time.
In the biggest picture, it's hard to say whether the Devils deserved this. Don't misunderstand me, I'm quite happy they won. I just wonder whether we can say they played a good game. They came out hard and played a great first period. They were pretty good in the third. They out-shot the Flyers at evens 28-23 and overall 31-28. The Flyers had little answer for Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac tonight. The team as a whole (except for the fourth line) ruled in shooting attempts, as the Devils put up a +13 Fenwick and a +16 Corsi. A margin that big usually means the Devils had an edge. Even when the Devils made mistakes, like the seemingly constant trouble with clearing the puck in the second period, the Flyers just didn't get to take full advantage on most cases. Plus, it helped that Bryzgalov didn't have such a great night in net.
That's the positive view. The negative view will point to some inconvenient events. Martin Brodeur also didn't have such a great night in net, which made the game harder for New Jersey. The Flyers outplayed the Devils in the second period and managed to tie up a 2-1 deficit in the process. The Flyers were able to tie up a 3-2 deficit in the third period, a goal that should've never happened. The Flyers were just wide on some choice opportunities even in overtime. Speaking of choice opportunities, the Devils faced the fury of the refs as they got caught whereas the Flyers rarely did. While some of the calls were garbage, some were legit ones which, at the time, seemed like a shoot-yourself-in-the-foot moment. Like Bryce Salvador's absolutely stupid clearance over the glass in overtime, for example. On top of the penalty problems, while the Devils were superior in attempts, actual shots on net were harder to come by after the first period and were quite even in the third and overtime periods. All of this points to the fact that while the Devils won, the performance was not at all flawless.
Again, based on the difference in attempts alone, I'm leaning towards giving New Jersey an edge despite the up-hill climb against referees and a Flyers team that decided to adjust after getting smacked around for four straight periods. Of course, feel free to disagree. I do know that this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs - it's all about results. Thanks to Kovalchuk and some favorable physics, Alexei Ponikarovsky turned a precarious and nerve-wracking overtime into a glorious joy in victory. It's 2-1 in the series and that's reason to smile.
For an opposition's point of view, please check out Ben Rothenberg's recap at Broad Street Hockey. For further thoughts on tonight's win, please continue on after the jump.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Game Highlights: If you want to check out the highlights to Game 3, then check out this video from NHL.com:
Kovalchuk Made a Statement Tonight: I think it was "I may not be able to burn you with speed, but I can burn you anyway."
Ilya Kovalchuk was scratched in Game 2 due to a herniated disc in his back. He skated this morning, went through warm-ups, and was put in the lineup in place of Peter Harrold. From his first shift, it was easily apparent that we would not see a repeat of Game 1. Kovalchuk played more like himself. He hustled, he forechecked fairly well, and he played quite a lot at 22:07 overall and 19:39 at even strength. I will point out that his shifts were shortened to an average of 42 seconds, an average likely skewed a bit by two minute-plus shifts in overtime.
Kovalchuk was much more active on offense tonight. His passes were pretty good, though I think he should stick to fewer blind passes. He was excellent in possession, his +12 in Corsi was the highest among all forwards and tied with Adam Larsson for the highest on the team. While Peter DeBoer didn't throw the Zajac line out against the toughs all the time (mostly, he saw Wayne Simmonds and Danny Briere among other forwards), he did see a fair mix of everyone at evens. He only got two shots on net, something I'd like to see him improve upon in Game 4. He did attempt seven shots, which is more like what we're used to seeing. Kovalchuk definitely was more of a factor going forward and these numbers are evidence of that.
Of course, the statement really stands out because he was very productive tonight. He scored a sweet goal twenty seconds after he assisted on Patrik Elias' power play goal in the first period. Kovalchuk saw Ponikarovsky wide open at the opposite end of the neutral zone and hit him with a great pass in overtime. That's how Ponikarovsky was able to streak ahead and get a shot off - which he put back the rebound for the win. That's three points in a playoff game where his team scored four goals and he played like wanted to make a statement. I'd say he was the best Devil on the ice tonight. Welcome back, Kovalchuk.
Dubious Goaltending: I don't like beating up on goaltenders too much, but I think it's fair to say that these are performances Brodeur and Bryzgalov will try to forget by Sunday. Let's start with the winning goaltender. Brodeur gave up two soft goals. (The non-soft one was from a blast by Matt Carle, the initial equalizer by Philly in the second period.) The first was the power play goal by Brayden Schenn; the first goal of the game. Normally, a one-timer at a relatively close range isn't soft; but Brodeur was caught just away from the right post and just after he stood up from being on the ground. That gave him the space to shoot and so Brodeur was burnt. The second was the Flyers' equalizer in the third period. James van Reimsdyk powered down the left side-boards and fired a shot. Brodeur stopped it, but instead of catching it or cradling it in for a freeze, there was a small rebound. Danny Briere was at the right post to pot that loose puck up and into the net. Brodeur really shouldn't have given up a rebound at all. In his partial defense, Adam Larsson probably should have followed Briere, who skated to the post uncovered, instead of trying to get up on van Reimsdyk. Still, those weren't good goals to allow and Brodeur was fighting the puck on a few occasions to get a freeze.
Fortunately for the Devils, Bryzgalov wasn't any better. He fought off pucks in some odd ways and he gave up some real soft ones too. I really think he should have stopped Elias' shot on the power play. The puck just went through him. Bryzgalov got into a one-on-one with Kovalchuk seconds later and Kovalchuk just made him look like an ornament on the play - just there for show. In the third period, he gets beaten by a jam play from Zach Parise. Yes, a jam play at the left side of the net actually yielded a goal for Parise. I don't know how many he had like that this season, but it wasn't a lot. Either way, Bryzgalov got exposed despite the fact he should've been in a better form to keep everything covered.
If either goaltender stepped up their game and didn't allow these goals, then the game wouldn't have went into overtime. So it goes. I'd expect both to be better on Sunday because, well, they could have done better.
Are We Still Concerned About Bryzgalov in the Playoffs: We shouldn't be. The Devils just put ten goals past him in the first three games of this series. And at least four of them were soft goals, too.
I'm not saying the Flyers should consider Sergei Bobrovsky; but they shouldn't not consider him either.
The Second Game of the Return: Adam Larsson got the nod over Harrold on defense. He wasn't perfect by any means. He really should have been following Briere curling around instead of trying to block van Reimsdyk shooting from a non-deal angle. That resulted in a goal. That said, Larsson made some nice plays with the puck, his clearances were pretty good for the most part. The coaches rewarded his play with more minutes; Larsson played 20:32 tonight. He was a +12 in Corsi and he saw the Briere line most of all. While he didn't score or pick up an assist, good things tended to happen when he was out there. I'd say that's a good second game back in the lineup.
Learn a New Move: Adam Henrique continues to motor on in this series. It's almost like a switch flipped on in Game 7 of the Florida series. Henrique got two shots, six attempts, and that included another breakaway. Again, he went five-hole. Again, it was denied. I liked Henrique in spots tonight; but if he can just hit home on one of those breakaways, that could make life a lot easier for the Devils. Ditto on faceoffs, as he was beaten badly by going 4-for-13. It would've helped if he didn't trip
Sean Couturier Wayne Simmonds (thanks, crashlanding) which led to a Philly power play conversion, too.
Marc Joannette and Brad Watson Clearly Saw Red Tonight: They barely saw the guys in orange and white do much wrong - even when it was quite obvious they were breaking the rules.
For the unaware, Joannette and Watson were tonight's refs. They managed to tag Larsson for high-sticking when his stick was really caught under the arm of Briere. They gave two minutes to Kovalchuk for delay of game when the puck clearly deflected off Matt Read before going over the glass. Kovalchuk and the Devils faithful around the world were livid and rightfully so. In overtime, Dainius Zubrus got two minutes for being strong and not being able to immediately stop on a dime behind the net. No, I'm sorry, he got two minutes for boarding Carle. The Flyers didn't take full advantage of these power plays. The closest they came to scoring was waved off because Schenn interfered with Brodeur. I'm impressed they made that call since they missed so many others.
That's really my beef with Watson and Joannette tonight. I can understand letting a lot go and having the players play in the playoffs. But they just let a ridiculous amount go. I saw Parise's jersey's being tugged as he's skating away. No call. I saw Maxime Talbot whack Brodeur with the follow through of his stick on his head after he dove out to cover a puck. No call. I saw Elias get knocked down at center ice away from the play. No call. I saw David Clarkson get entangled with a Flyer in overtime right at center ice, again away from the play. No call. I saw all manner of fouls that weren't called on Philly in all three periods. I know they wanted to call the obvious ones and the Devils gave them two. The biggest was Bryce Salvador take his time before clearing the puck over the glass in his own end. However, the Flyers were getting away with mugging the Devils and nothing was done. Tonight featured a lot of garbage officiating and I suppose it's par for the course in this postseason.
In a way, that makes this win feel much bigger as the Devils had to overcome the stripes as well as the winged-Ps. The Devils' penalty killers held the Flyers to only five shots across all five of their power plays. While the first one (a legit call) converted; they battled for pucks and got important clearances on the four so they wouldn't fall to a bad call - which was a realistic possibility in this game
Giroux The Magician: Claude Giroux: 27:26, two shots on net, five shooting attempts, 10-for-22 on faceoffs, -10 Fenwick, -9 Corsi, and no points tonight. I think his spell is turning into Stephen Weiss?
Not So Fast, Elias: Elias did score a goal and did get four shots on net. Along with Parise and Clarkson, he did quite well against Giroux, Scott Hartnell, and Jaromir Jagr (yes, he still plays hockey in this league). He finished a +6 in Corsi. He also did a lot of good work on the PK as well as actually winning over 50% of his draws. For the most part, Elias had a good game.
However, Elias' play with the puck bothered me from the second period onward. He had several botched clearances. One of them cost the team dearly. The puck was stopped at the blueline and the Flyers were kept onside, it was wheeled around, and eventually led to Matt Carle's one-timer that tied up the game at two. Elias' passing almost felt like a barometer for this game. When he was moving the puck well, it seemed that the rest of the team did too. When he was struggling, the rest of the team seemed to follow suit. Hopefully, Elias will simplify his clearances and passes. That could lead to more success for his line and possibly the team as a whole. I'm not saying Elias was bad tonight. He really wasn't. I'm saying this aspect of his game wasn't good.
Fourth Line Reality: The fourth line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta, and Steve Bernier got back together tonight with Harrold on the bench. They didn't have such a good night. While each played over ten minutes, all three combined for two shots on net out of three combined attempts. They were the only Devils to be negative in Corsi tonight and it was by at least -6. I'm not going to complain too loudly because they've done better than what I could have expected in this postseason. Plus, being a net negative in possession didn't yield any scores, so there wasn't too much harm done. Tonight may be the end of their streak of sorts. Maybe they'll prove me wrong on Sunday.
Sticks, Please: Mark Fayne had an unfortunate night with his sticks. They kept breaking on him at some inopportune times on defense. He's had to make some gutsy plays without it on a few occasions. I don't know what to recommend other than "better luck next time" or "get some new sticks."
Some Salvadorian Praise: While Bryce Salvador's delay of game call was deserved and dearly dumb, he otherwise had a big night of his own. OK, defensive defensemen having a big night isn't so easy to pinpoint. The coaches gave him plenty of shifts at evens against the Giroux and Briere lines. The result was a +1 in Fenwick and +5 in Corsi; not bad for a player who doesn't add much on offense. Salvador simply ruled on the PK tonight and he ate up a lot of minutes. Salvador led the team in even strength ice time (27:51) and overall ice time (31:43). He was mostly safe, some physical play, nothing dirty, and not too many errors. And it helped out in this win on the back end.
Noted: The Flyers actually woke up after getting out-played for the better part of the last four periods of this series in the second period. It was inevitable; Peter Laviolette eventually had to get through to his players. I'm sure he'll have to continue to work on it since they did lose. I will say I like how the Devils responded in the third period after a poor second period. Their forecheck was more aggressive in the third like it was in the first and their backchecking was mostly solid. Even then, this game required overtime and a good amount of it. If nothing else, this game is proof that the Flyers won't be going down without a fight.
What I Want to See: I want more shots. I know, what a predictable answer. The Devils got blocked 15 times and missed the net 13 times to go with their 31 shots overall. They could have done more, especially in the second period and in stretches of the third period. The team as a whole contributed to shooting as only Bernier, Larsson, and Petr Sykora didn't get a shot on net tonight. Yet, I want particular players to get more rubber on net. I want more than just two from Kovalchuk and Henrique. I want to see more than three from Parise (though they all came in the third and OT periods), who continues to have a strong series. I want more than one from Zajac (who also did well in his match-ups). I want more than zero from Sykora. I know I'm demanding quite a bit, but this is a team that gives significant minutes to Andreas Lilja and Eric Gustafsson on defense and has a wild card in net. Keep up the shooting and the goals will come. Games 2 and, to an extent, 3 proved that.
What I Don't Want to See: Among the other silly penalties, I do not want to see more unforced clearances over the glass. Kovalchuk's doesn't count; his was deflected and the refs got it wrong.
The Rock is Conductive: The crowd was absolutely jacked in the first period and the response to Kovalchuk's goal was simply massive. It was only surpassed by Ponikarovsky's game winning goal. Say what you want about the place, but when it's filled with Devils fans like tonight who wanted to be loud and were willing to be loud and were simply just loud at times, it's an experience.
One Last Thought: Follow your shots. Sometimes, you'll get a second chance and succeed. Just ask Ponikarovsky.
That's my take on tonight's 4-3 overtime win in Game 3. Now I want to know yours and, as usual, I have a bunch of questions to help you out with that. What did you think of Kovalchuk's performance tonight? How did you react when he scored in the first period? How about when Parise actually scored on a jam play in the third? What about when the Flyers tied it up twice? Did you think the Devils were the better team tonight and deserved this win? How horrible were the refs in your view? How did you react when Ponikarovsky scored in OT? What do you think the Devils need to work on for Game 4? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the gamethread as well as with the minimal amount of tweets from @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.