NHL Playoffs: Team Effort Delivers New Jersey A Split

The New Jersey Devils did what they had to do in Philadelphia last night, and even though it took a couple periods for it to payoff, it was the complete team concept that delivered the Devils a 4-1 win and a 1-1 series tie against the Flyers in last night’s only NHL playoff game.

Philadelphia got an early goal, but the Devils got settled into lockdown defense and the Philly offense, one of the most prolific in the league all season and the best so far in the playoffs, couldn’t get a shot off, having just 11 shots through two periods and 20 for the game. Meanwhile, New Jersey was staying aggressive. They got 25 shots in periods 1 & 2, but still trailed 1-0 as Flyer goalie Ilya Bryzgalov looked like he was finally ready to earn even a fraction of the nine-year $51 million deal he got to be the man who can put this team over the hump in June. But the Devils kept pounding and they eventually broke through with four goals in the final period. They were evenly dispersed throughout the period and nine players got credit for a point so there was literally no time when Jersey didn’t have productive players on the ice in the third period.

It was an impressive display of hockey in a situation the team really needed to win. After the game the Flyers’ players and coaches blamed themselves for exposing Bryzgalov to too great a degree—and with 34 shots allowed, that’s fair enough. But at $51 million it’s also fair enough for Flyers fans to expect at least one “get me one goal tonight and we’ll win” kind of effort from the goaltender. He’s playing better than in the Pittsburgh series, but goalie is still an issue with Philadelphia and this series heads across the border into New Jersey.

All the series are two games in right now, with both Eastern Conference series’ tied, and in the West, Los Angeles and Phoenix having jumped out to 2-0 leads, over St. Louis and Nashville respectively. Tonight it’s NY Rangers-Washington and Phoenix-Nashville.

In the Caps-Rangers series, the lack of playing time for Alex Ovechkin is becoming a bigger media story. The star played only 13-plus minutes in Game 2. Look, I understand Washington needed to be more defensive-oriented to avoid previous playoff flameouts, but this is over the top. You’re talking about one of the best players in hockey playing less than a quarter of the game!  It makes even less sense when there’s a correlation between Ovechkin getting his shots—even when he’s not scoring—and the Capitals offensive success. It’s one thing to become defense-oriented, it’s another to turn an elite scorer into a role player, as though he’s just a sixth man coming off the bench or a #3 wide receiver in football.

There’s less mystery in the Phoenix-Nashville game, in the shadow of Grand ‘Ol Opry, but more urgency. The Predators have played some bad hockey in the first two games and even though they are the lower seed, they’re favored in this series—the Coyotes only have the #3 seed by virtue of winning a weak Pacific Division. I wish I could say something more analytical or inspired than “they need to play like they’re the better team, but until they can get a win under their belt, that’s all this is about.