The look etched on the countenance of Bryce Salvador was not one of relief.
It was the look of a man who recognized his team had received an 11th-hour pardon. And now, instead of certain death, Salvador and the New Jersey Devils have life.
“We’re doing everything we can to buy time so [Ilya Kovalchuk] can come back to the lineup,” Salvador said, a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin creasing his face, after the Devils’ 4-1 win over Atlantic Division rival Philadelphia in Game 2 without their injured sniper.
The Eastern Conference semifinals series is tied 1-1 as the venue shifts to Newark’s Prudential Center for the next two games. Game 3 is Thursday night.
“We responded well,” Zach Parise said afterward.
You could say that. Despite spotting the Flyers a 1-0 lead on Matt Read’s bullet 2:53 into the game, it was the Devils who played as if they had everything to lose.
It is only because they did.
Kovalchuk was not with his teammates. The superstar left wing was 90 miles to the north, receiving care for what’s been termed a "lower-body injury."
“We left Ilya Kovalchuk back in New Jersey,” Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters Tuesday morning. “He will not be in the lineup. The reason is a lower-body injury and that’s all we will say. He is day-to-day.”
The sniper, who has tormented Philadelphia goaltending for 22 goals and 43 points in 45 career regular-season games, could have been a useful component, especially in the second period in which the Devils outshot the Flyers 12-2 but couldn’t score. At one point in the second period, the Devils had a 12-0 advantage in shots. New Jersey finished the game with a 35-20 advantage in shots.
“We were getting chances, it wasn’t going in for us. We kept working. We didn’t give up,” winger David Clarkson said. “We didn’t give up. We kept pushing.”
It was Adam Larsson who helped the Devils break through by whipping a shot from the right faceoff dot past Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to tie the score 1-1 at 3:08 in the third. The fourth overall pick in last June’s draft had not played since logging 12:39 of ice time in New Jersey’s 4-2 win over Ottawa in the regular-season finale for both teams. He was in the lineup as Kovalchuk’s replacement.
“I was very glad to get back. I knew if I wanted to stay in the lineup, I had to step it up,” Larsson said.
Despite Read’s early goal, the Devils had dominated. They had kept the go-go-go Flyers pinned in their own end by forechecking and cycling.
“It was a complete game,” Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (19 saves) said. “I don’t think they were sitting back. I thought we bottled them in. We just kept on going at them. Our ‘D’ really did a good job holding the boards — we know when they really get in trouble they try to go around the boards [and] we took that away from them. We had a lot of pressure and created a lot of stuff.”
Clarkson put the Devils ahead for good with 8:43 remaining by shoving Parise’s through-the-crease pass under Bryzgalov. Two minutes and 44 seconds later, Travis Zajac’s wraparound guaranteed that the Flyers and Devils would return to Newark tied 1-1. Salvador’s empty-netter with 2:51 left was icing on the cake.