Despite hopes of repeating their comeback magic of a decade ago, the Devils were unable to muster much in Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5.
Missing Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne because of injury, the Flyers got two goals and an assist from Claude Giroux to ice the series, four games to one. Danny Briere notched a power-play goal and an assist.
Brian Boucher, who was thought to be the Flyers’ weakness entering the series, made 28 saves for his second career playoff shutout and first since 1999-00.
Boucher was one of the connections between this year’s series and the 2000 Eastern Conference Final. He was Philadelphia’s goaltender in that series, which the Devils trailed 3-1 before rallying to win three straight.
That recovery had fostered optimism that this year’s squad, with four players remaining from that 2000 team, might be able to do it again. Unfortunately for Jersey’s Team and the sellout crowd of 17,625 at Prudential Center, the rally fizzled.
“I just don’t believe it,” Martin Brodeur said. “It’s kind of tough to digest. We had a hell of a team here, but for whatever reason we never got to the level we needed to play in the playoffs. I’m just really disappointed, that’s for sure.”
The disappointment was evident throughout the dressing room after the game. Fresh off their second straight Atlantic Division title, and fourth in the last five years, the Devils exited the first round on home ice for a third straight season.
“A lot of good things happened this season, we can’t forget that,” Brodeur said. “But we’re paid to play in the playoffs and to have success. That’s what people remember. It’s three years in a row that we haven’t accomplished anything.”
The Devils drew the first power play on Daniel Carcillo just 43 seconds into the contest. Jamie Langenbrunner’s tripping minor erased the final 1:14 of the man advantage, and Briere made it 1-0 with Langenbrunner still in the box at 3:16.
Giroux tacked on two goals – one on the power play – in the second period to round out the scoring. The Devils misfired on eight power plays in the contest and scored just three goals over the final three games of the series, all with the man advantage.
For Jacques Lemaire, it’s all over too soon. He returned last summer to coach the club that he led to its first Stanley Cup in 1995. He believed that this group had the talent to go all the way.
“You know it’s frustrating not to be back on the ice in the next few days,” Lemaire said. “I felt that we could have played better. We did not play playoff hockey. Philly did a much better job in that department. It is a little frustrating because all along I felt that we had a good team. I didn’t see this team play at their best. I don’t think that I’ve seen them play at their best yet, for a period of time. A game here and there, but not sustained. It’s disappointing.”
When the Devils had chances, Boucher was there. He stopped David Clarkson’s shot from the slot on a New Jersey power play with 4:50 left in the first. When Travis Zajac led Zach Parise on a shorthanded partial break with 1:36 left, Boucher reached out the paddle of his goal stick to deny the Devils’ leading scorer.
“We got outworked,” Parise said. “They played well and we didn’t respond.”
He said Boucher was good enough when he needed to be.
“He played well, made good saves,” Parise said. “He played well enough and their D did a really good job. It’s tough to penetrate them. They have good gap. You don’t get a lot of second and third opportunities because they’re there ready to knock you out of there and it’s tough to play against.”
Parise was admittedly shocked over the outcome.
“It feels like crap,” he said. “We want so bad to be on a winning team, to be a part of a a winning team and win the Stanley Cup. It’s not an easy thing to do. There’s only one team that does it a year. It’s tough. It’s tough when you’re not there.”
This wasn’t the kind of finale to their season the Devils had envisioned. Certainly not after trading for one of the League’s most dynamic scorers in Ilya Kovalchuk in February.
“I don’t think we were outhustled,” said Kovalchuk, who had two goals and four assists in the series. “They just scored at the right time. Our power play, we can’t get a jump. It’s unbelievable.”
Kovalchuk becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but has enjoyed his time in New Jersey. He has not ruled out returning.
“I love everything here,” Kovalchuk said. “I think it’s a great organization. I appreciate that Lou gave me a chance to play here. It was a great experience and I played with some great players. I loved it. We all know it’s a business, and I’m open to anything.”
Parise hopes Kovalchuk stays.
“I’d love to see him back, I think we’d all love to see him back,” Parise said. “He’s a great player, great teammate. A good guy. We sure hope he’s back because he can help us.”
For now, the Devils are left with the frustration of a promising season ending five games into the first round.
Brodeur, Patrik Elias, Jay Pandolfo and Colin White are the remaining players from the comeback in the 2000 conference final. Elias had four assists in the series. Pandolfo did not make a postseason appearance. … Devils fell to 1-8 in series that they trailed 3-1. All-time, they are 2-7 in Game 5 when trailing 3-1. … Devils are the first team eliminated from the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Coach's Comments Lemaire was asked in his postgame presser if he felt letdown by the players.
"I know some of the guys they gave their heart, they played really hard the whole way," he said. "I'm looking more at these players."
He thought there were good chances for the Devils on the power play Thursday night. New Jersey went 0-for-8.
"We moved the puck well," he said. "We didn't get any bounces. Everyone can see that. All along the series against them, the power play would move the puck well, but we couldn't score. I think today were the closest ones to getting a goal but we couldn't. Bounces, the puck didn't go the right way. We'll miss the open net. Things like that. But that happens when you don't have everyone believing in what you have to do to win. That will happen."
Lemaire said he didn't get enough "playoff hockey" from his team.
"This year, I mentioned it. It's being able to believe in what we do and play 'playoff hockey,'" he said. "There's not 10 ways to play in the playoffs. There's one way to play. That's the way you have to play, otherwise, you have no chance to win. And we didn't play that way."
Langenbrunner finished with one assist in the series, but Lemaire shrugged off a question that suggested the captain failed to inspire his teammates.
"From your part, he didn't seem to, because you're outside," Lemaire said. "I think Jamie's doing a lot of things inside with the guys that even us coaches are not aware of. He's been a good captain from Day One."
To Lemaire, Kovalchuk could be a big part of the Devils' future if he re-signs.
"You can see what he does, he's a threat every time he's on the ice," the coach said. "This will be up to Lou and him to see what they want to do."
On paper, the Devils were the second seed ousted by the seventh-seeded Flyers. But parity makes that less of a mismatch than it seems.
"There's what, seven wins difference between them and us during the season?" Lemaire asked. "Both teams had a lot of injuries and seven games out of 82 is not a lot. You look at all the playoffs, the difference is very thin [between teams]."
Tough matchups Maybe the unluckiest recent playoff trend for New Jersey has been facing first-round opponents that gave them difficulty in the regular season.
The Devils were eliminated by the Rangers in 2008 after going 1-4-3 against them during the season, and bowed out to Carolina last season after going 1-3-0 against them in regular-season play. The Devils dropped five of six to the Flyers in the regular season, and that struggle continued into the playoffs.
"Going with the season series, it was obvious that this was one of the toughest matchups that we could have gotten," Brodeur said.
There isn't one particular problem that Brodeur could put his finger on in this year's series.
"There's a lot of things that go into judging a team," Brodeur said. "The intensity and bringing your game to a different level. Sometimes it doesn't start in the playoffs, it's got to start before. I thought we did that. I was pretty positive in the way we played. It was a tough last two games we had to play against the Islanders and Buffalo. It was just a weird two games for us that kind of put a stamp on the way we played.
"It's just not acceptable for the talent and the players that we have to go home after five games. It's not a special thing. It's the whole attitude of everybody. It's just something that's really disappointing."
Backhand shot -
1 - 0 PHI
2 - 0 PHI
Wrist shot -
3 - 0 PHI
Hi stick - double minor
James van Riemsdyk