What happened: The New Jersey Devils came back from a nightmarish first period to defeat the Flyers 5-3 in what was perhaps their gutsiest performance of the year. After Travis Zajac scored, less than a minute into the game, the Flyers came roaring back with three goals in under three minutes in the first period. After that, the Devils settled down and battled back before David Clarkson’s tip-in goal, his 10th tally on the year, gave New Jersey the lead for good.
Star of the Game: Ilya Kovalchuk gets the nod here. We always talk about how elite players make everyone around them better and that was exactly what #17 did tonight. He was happy to pass the puck and he finished the night with three assists. He was smart with the puck and simply created chances for his teammates. This is the kind of game that proves why he’s worth the contract he signed.
Goat of the Game: After he failed to protect a 3-1 lead, Ilya Bryzgalov showed the kind of inconsistency in his play that has plagued him during his time in Philadelphia. The game-tying goal he let in was the softest goal of the night, and then he couldn’t do much on the perfect tip-in goal by Clarkson. When you get out to a 3-1 lead, you have to protect it and Bryzgalov did not.
Turning Point: There are a few moments that you could chose here, but i’m going to go with Alexei Ponikarovsky’s second period goal that cut the lead to 3-2. With the quick talley, it allowed the Devils plenty of time to get back into the game. They didn’t press and just let the game come to them. The gorgeous pass by Kovalchuk and the even prettier finish by Ponikarovsky proves why everyone was so happy to have him back; he just fits the system well.
Offense: A-minus – They missed on a few chances early on that could have cut the lead in the first, but overall, they looked solid tonight. They kept firing pucks on Bryzgalov and wore him down. All around, a good performance, especially from Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias who both finished with three points (1g, 2a)
Defense: C-plus – The defense was not sharp in the first period and they have to get a lot of the blame for the onslaught of offense from Philadelphia in the first frame. They did rise to the challenge the rest of the way, with Adam Larsson having another excellent game. His play in the defensive end continues to improve every game.
Goaltending: B – A lot of goaltenders would fold after the kind of period that Martin Brodeur had, but this is Marty we’re talking about here, so the regular rules don’t apply. He was great the rest of the way and did an excellent job to keep the Flyers from scoring in the 2nd and 3rd periods. He stayed confident and focused and it payed off.
Special Teams: C-minus It’s hard to really grade specials in this one because there were only two penalties called all game. That’s almost shocking, considering this was a Devils/Flyers game. The Flyers scored on their only power play of the night, on a Wayne Simmonds goal and the Devils were held off of the score sheet on their lone man-advantage of the night.
Instant Analysis: This was a gutsy win for this team. You almost got the feeling that the Devils sat back a bit after they scored early, but the Flyers weren’t going to fold. A lot of teams that deal with a period that poor might fold, but the Devils showed some big-time resiliency in this one. They chipped away at the lead and finally got back in front after calming things down and keeping the Flyers in check.
When you measure good teams, you look at their ability to win when they’re not at their best, and make the come back. Good teams can win games they should win, but it’s those that can fight through adversity that can call themselves great. There is a LOT of hockey left to play, but this is a win that shows the character of this team. It’s something to build on, starting tomorrow night, facing off against a desperate Islanders team out on the island.