After earning a split of the first two games in Philadelphia, the New Jersey Devils will try to claim their first lead of this Eastern Conference semifinal series, as they host the Flyers in tonight's Game 3 at the Prudential Center.
Philadelphia won the opener of this best-of-seven series in overtime, but the sixth-seeded Devils rallied for a 4-1 win in Game 2 on Tuesday. The Flyers led the contest 1-0 after 40 minutes of play, but New Jersey scored four times in the third period to tie the series at one win apiece.
The Devils evened the series despite playing Game 2 without star winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who sat out the game with a lower-body injury. Kovalchuk, who participated in his team's morning skate today, is questionable for tonight's contest. He has three goals and three assists in eight playoff games this spring after leading the team with 37 goals and 83 points during the regular season.
Kovalchuk's absence created an opportunity for Adam Larsson in Game 2 and the rookie defenseman made the most of that chance on Tuesday night. Larsson scored in his playoff debut, igniting the four-goal third period that propelled the Devils to their recent win over the fifth-seeded Flyers.
Larsson, the fourth player taken in the 2011 draft, had been a healthy scratch for each of New Jersey's first eight postseason games. He tied the game at 1-1 while the teams skated 4-on-4. Dainius Zubrus collected a loose puck in the right circle and backhanded it to Larsson, who drifted in from the right point before beating Philadelphia goalie Ilya Bryzgalov high on the glove side at the 3:08 mark of the third.
"I was a little bit rusty in the first five, ten minutes, but the longer the game went, I felt pretty good in there," admitted Larsson, who played in only his second game since March 25.
David Clarkson gave the Devils a 2-1 lead at 11:17 of the third and Travis Zajac and Bryce Salvador added to the cushion. Zubrus posted two assists in the victory and New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur only needed to stop 19- of-20 shots for the win.
"I just think just sticking with it," Devils head coach Peter DeBoer said of his team's strong third period. "We really felt we were generating chances. We're spending a lot of time in their end. Bryzgalov made some big saves for them early and we just felt that we just had to stick with it. That resiliency finally paid off."
Meanwhile, Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette attributed the Devils' success to their legs.
"They skated well tonight. I thought that their skating was better than ours," he stated.
Matt Read scored the lone goal for the Flyers at 2:53 of the first period, but Philadelphia faltered after getting off to the quick start. Bryzgalov turned aside 31 shots in the losing effort and did a nice job of keeping the Flyers in the game before New Jersey turned the tide in the third period.
"[Bryzgalov] was our best player by far today," said Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen. "He was solid out there, he played really well and he gave us a chance to win the game but we couldn't get that for him."
The Flyers were 0-for-5 on the power play, marking the first game this postseason that they didn't register a power-play goal. Philadelphia was 1- for-6 with the man advantage in Game 1 and is 13-for-34 on the power play in the postseason.
The Devils, who will also host Game 4 on Sunday, were 24-13-4 as the home team during the regular season. New Jersey was 2-1 on home ice while defeating Florida in seven games during the opening round.
The Flyers had a solid 25-13-3 road record during the 2011-12 campaign and is 2-1 as the guest in this postseason. Philadelphia ousted Pittsburgh in six games to advance to the conference semifinals.
New Jersey and the Flyers have met four times previously in the Stanley Cup playoffs and each team has claimed two series. New Jersey beat Philadelphia in the 1995 and 2000 conference finals, but the Flyers have won the last two series, having ousted the Devils in five games in the opening rounds of the 2004 and 2010 postseasons.
Philadelphia barely won the 2011-12 season series against the Devils, posting a 3-2-1 record.