Parise celebrating Zajac goal that got Devils within a goal late in regulation.
The Devils stumbled in their playoff opener, losing a 2-1 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday.
Mike Richards had a goal and an assist for the Flyers, who built a 2-0 lead in the second period. Travis Zajac had the lone Devils goal, breaking up Brian Boucher’s shutout bid with 2:43 left in regulation.
Chris Pronger’s power-play goal broke a scoreless tie midway through the second.
The Devils trail 1-0 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Game 2 is set for Friday night at Prudential Center.
“I think we played a pretty good game,” said head coach Jacques Lemaire. “We had some chances where the puck didn’t go in. We limited them to a certain amount of chances, and that’s what we were looking for. But [Philadelphia is] a good team that plays well defensively.”
It was Richards’ goal that put the Flyers ahead by two. Ian Laperriere intercepted Martin Skoula’s pass along the right boards, then drove into the Devils’ zone. He spun a cross-ice pass to Richards for a blast near the top of the left circle that tipped off Martin Brodeur’s left skate and in at 16:27.
Richards had just come onto the ice on a line change, and there was some question as to whether the Flyers should have been called for too many men.
“It was too many men at a certain time,” Lemaire said. “But it was up to be called. This game goes fast and there’s a lot of things going on. Sometimes you’re missing it – nothing you can do.”
Lemaire didn’t notice the too many men at first.
“I did miss it myself when it happened, but I saw it on the video, after,” he said.
Zajac got the Devils within one with a blast from near the top of the right circle that tipped off Laperriere and found its way between Boucher's pads. Brodeur was pulled for the extra skater with 1:20 to go, but the Devils couldn't get the equalizer.
Philadelphia gift-wrapped an opportunity for the Devils 2:12 into the third, when Oskars Bartulis took a double-minor for high-sticking David Clarkson. New Jersey managed just two shots on the ensuing four-minute man advantage, and finished 0-for-5 on the power play.
Boucher made 23 saves for the Flyers, who won for the sixth time in seven meetings with the Devils this season. Philadelphia took five of six in the regular season series.
Ilya Kovalchuk recorded four shots in his Devils playoff debut, including an outstanding scoring opportunity at 7:52 of the first. Dainius Zubrus set up Kovalchuk’s wrister from the slot that Boucher kept out of the net with a terrific glove save.
“We have to create more chances, more shots, more people in front,” Kovalchuk said. “We have to make it tough for [Boucher]. Yeah, they got a win, but it’s going to be a long series.”
In the second period, Kovalchuk used two dazzling moves to evade Blair Betts and Matt Carle before firing the puck wide at 11:21. It was that kind of night for the Devils in front of a sold-out crowd at the Rock.
“I give him credit,” Kovalchuk said of Boucher. “But we have to move on. Turn the page and go.”
Lemaire thought the left winger might have been trying to do too much in his fifth playoff game, and first since 2007 with Atlanta.
“He tried a lot,” Lemaire said. “Maybe a little too hard.
The Devils will address the power play at Thursday’s practice. Kovalchuk says they need to look for the simple plays.
“We tried to make it too complicated, and pucks were bouncing over sticks. We just have to start with the basics: just put the puck on net.”
Devils Managing Partner Jeff Vanderbeek greeted fans with Red Alert t-shirts at Newark Penn Station before Wednesday's Game 1.
New Jersey did outshoot the Flyers, 24-14. But the feeling in the dressing room was that they could have done more to test Boucher, one of five goalies the Flyers have used this season.
“We didn’t get enough shots,” said captain Jamie Langenbrunner. “We made a few blunders we didn’t need to, turning the puck over, and pucks bouncing over sticks. We have to be better at the power play, obviously. We controlled 5-on-5 play for the most part. We did a pretty good job eliminating their chances. Our power play didn’t score a goal.”
Langenbrunner had a bid for an open net in the third, when Boucher got caught out of the crease trying to steer a loose puck away from Patrik Elias. Langenbrunner muffed the first shot, then tried to carry around the left post, before the net was dislodged by Braydon Coburn. The Flyers defenseman was handed a minor for delay of game.
The Devils’ captain said his club never underestimated Boucher. He went 9-18-3 this season, but made 32 saves in a 5-1 win over New Jersey on March 28.
“He’s been in this League a long time, so he must be doing something right,” Langenbrunner said. “I don’t think we have anything but respect for him and what he’s done. We have a game plan on how we want to make it hard on him; we didn’t do a great job of it tonight. We were close on some chances, and we need to continue to do that.”
Devils got off to a great start in the contest, outshooting Philadelphia, 9-4, in the scoreless first.
New Jersey came within inches of taking the first lead multiple times in the frame. The puck found Kovalchuk on the doorstep early, but bounced over his stick just two minutes in. Five minutes later, a wrist shot from Andy Greene was redirected just wide of the left post.
Pronger’s first of the playoffs opened the scoring for Philadelphia in the second period. With Zubrus in the box for hooking Carle, Richards threw the puck to the front of the net from the corner. Simon Gagne got a stick on it before Pronger nudged the puck underneath Brodeur for a power-play goal at 9:25.
Game 1 is in the books, though not with the outcome the Devils wanted. They hope to tie the series with a win in Friday’s Game 2.
“There’s no doubt that we’re looking to win the second game,” Lemaire said. “This is the playoffs and the playoffs is the first team that wins four.”
The Devils slipped to 19-20 all-time in series openers; 13-8 at home. … Zach Parise had a game-high five shos on goal. No Flyer had more than two. … Devils finished with a 28-20 edge in faceoffs. Sixteen New Jersey shots missed the net. … Flyers blocked 14 shots, led by Carle's four.
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