With a 1-0 lead through the first 40 minutes of Game 2 of their series with the New Jersey Devils, the Philadelphia Flyers looked like they were well on their way to a 2-0 series lead. Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov made it look almost too easy, stopping the first 26 shots he faced in the game.
But a four-goal third period by the Devils showed just how hard it can be to win in the NHL playoffs, as New Jersey went on to win 4-1 to even the series at one game apiece.
The Flyers’ penalty kill in the first period was buzzing, cutting off passes and generating a number of chances going the other way. And the best penalty killer on the night was in net. Bryzgalov was tested early, and looked sharp, including on a breakaway chance by Devils captain Zach Parise.
But after 20 minutes of play, the ice appeared to tilt in the Devils’ favor. The visitors outshot the Flyers 12-2 in the middle stanza, many of those attempts coming off Flyers turnovers in their own zone. Bryzgalov saw a lot of rubber in the second, and he needed to make more than a few big saves in close. He looked strong, and often times unbeatable, but the Flyers’ skaters continued to let their goaltender down.
"Definitely, I think we just didn’t have the jump in the second or third period,” said rookie Eric Wellwood, who led all Flyers in shots with four. “I think after the first period it’s like the game is over, and you know the game is not over until the buzzer goes. It lasts 60 minutes and, next game, we are going to have to play the full 60."
While allowing an assault on Bryzgalov by the Devils’ offense, the Flyers didn’t muster a shot of their own until 1:25 remaining in the second. Despite only managing only two shots in the period, they still maintained their 1-0 lead.
"Yeah, without [Bryzgalov] it could have been dangerous out there,” said Flyers forward Matt Read, who scored the game’s first goal 2:53 in. "They took it to us the last 40 minutes of the game. He kept it close for us and gave us a chance to win and, if he plays like that any given night, it gives us a better opportunity to win."
Once the Devils finally put one past Bryzgalov at 3:08 of the third period, the wheels began falling off for the Flyers, and New Jersey looked relentless in attack. The Flyers scrambled in their own zone, turning over pucks and failing on clearances. When a rebound shot by David Clarkson beat Bryzgalov on the short side to give the Devils the lead at 11:17 of the third, the Flyers netminder responded by throwing his stick and catching glove in frustration.
The best Flyers player on the ice was clearly Bryzgalov, who stopped 31 shots and handled a number of tough stops. But the Flyers failed to use their fast offense, rugged forecheck and healthy defense to their advantage in Game 2.
In the regular season, the Flyers garnered a reputation as the comeback kids. After allowing the first goal — sometimes on the first shot of the game — they used the second and third periods to rally and win more often than not. So far, in the playoffs, they’re 1-3 when scoring first and 4-0 when allowing the first goal.
If the Flyers want to win this series and move on to the conference final, they’ll need to find the same desperation they showed in Game 6 of the first round that saw them score first and never look back against the Penguins. If not, this will be a much harder series than it needs to be.
"It wasn’t just the offense, it was three zones,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said after the Game 2 loss. “They were quicker, they were more competitive on the puck than we were. There are times when a goaltender stands on his head like that and you’re able to squeak one out, but often times it doesn’t last or it doesn’t hold up. In the end, the results are just based on our play. Bryz, he was phenomenal tonight; but we have to do a better job in front of him."