The New Jersey Devils became the third team to punch their ticket to the conference finals in the NHL playoffs and the first one to move forward in the East. In Tuesday’s lone playoff game, the Devils beat Philadelphia on the road 3-1 to clinch the series in five games.
Philadelphia played without center Claude Giroux, suspended for a hit in Game 4 and whose passing ability keys their offense. If it were just about this one game the Flyers would have a valid excuse, because without Giroux that had no one to create flow and the Devils turned in a terrific team defensive effort, holding a normally potent attack to less than 30 shots and Martin Brodeur played an excellent game in goal, stopping 27 of 28 shots. The veteran Brodeur may not be the elite stopper of his prime, but we have to note that in the two games in these playoffs were New Jersey had played to advance (Game 7 against Florida in the first round and then last night), Brodeur has delivered 71 saves and allowed only two goals. New Jersey also played a clean defensive game, as the Flyers got just one power play—something their undermanned offense could surely have used more of.
And while we can give Philly an excuse for last night, we can’t explain away the entire dismantling New Jersey put over the past week. Forwards Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk were solid all series long, and last night was no different. Parise wasn’t able to get on the board, but he was active with five shots and keeping offensive flow moving. Kovalchuk delivered an early assist and then with a 2-1 lead in the third period, it was his slapshot with 15 minutes left that all but sealed the Devils’ advancement.
New Jersey now awaits the winner of the NY Rangers-Washington series and that goes to Game 6 tonight in D.C. The Capitals have pushed themselves to the brink all year and somehow pulled back safely and its do-or-die in the Verizon Center tonight. The media focus has been on how they gave away Game 5 with a foolish penalty at the end and the resulting power play enabled the Rangers to tie the game with seven seconds left and then win in overtime while the power play was still in effect. This is indeed a big story, but as noted in this space after the game, a bigger problem is that New York decisively outplayed Washington for the entire game, and only a great effort by 22-year-old Braden Holtby in goal made it a game. I want to see the Caps get Alex Ovechkin involved—he astonishingly made it through a pivotal Game 5 without taking a single shot. A big gun is worthless if it’s never fired. And I want to see the team defense win the battle with New York’s Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik and keep the two scorers off the puck. Because we don’t see those things, we will see a Rangers-Devils conference final, a rematch an epic battle the teams had at that level in 1994.
There’s still no date for the Phoenix-Los Angeles opener in the Western Conference Finals. I’m guessing Sunday, but nothing’s official. If Washington and New York need a seventh game that will be Saturday, otherwise my best guess is that the East Finals would open that same day. Whenever the schedule is announced, TheSportsNotebook will have previews of both series in anticipation of the first puck drop.