For the second straight night, the Flyers were handed a loss by a team currently not in the playoff picture as the Devils won 4-2 in Jersey. He may have not scored the game-winning goal, but Patrik Elias essentially won the game for the Devils netting a hat-trick. Brian Rolston had all three of the primary assists on Elias's goals and Johan Hedberg made 34 saves on 36 shots to give the Devils their third win of the season against the Flyers.
With the Penguins and Capitals idle tonight, the Flyers had a chance to move closer to clinching both the division and the conference. Hopes were high as the Flyers opened up the scoring tonight in New Jersey.
Recovering a defensive clear from Andrej Meszaros in the offensive zone, Mike Richards took advantage of Ilya Kovalchuk out of position. With Kovalchuk filling in the spot of left defense due to the Flyers' ensuing rush, Richards dangled the puck until he was standing on one skate. From this position, Richards passed it perfectly to the stick of James van Riemsdyk, who was standing at the top of the crease behind Hedberg. JVR's 20th gave Philly the 1-0 lead 9:50 into the game.
The second period saw two New Jersey veterans step up to take the lead. Elias, scoring 6:28 into the middle period, gave his team the lead 1:52 after his initial goal. With his team short-handed, Elias scored his second goal in less than two minutes to give Jersey the lead. With the two quick strikes from the Devils, the Flyers saw their first deficit in the game and relentless pressure from the opposition for the remainder of the period.
Just before the period ended, the Flyers showed signs of life pressuring Hedberg in the final seconds. The late surge may have seemed meaningless, but the momentum from the end of the second period carried over to the beginning of the third period for the Flyers.
For awhile now, the Flyers have had problems getting to the net and creating scoring chances. Somebody who is notorious for displaying all offense and no defense is Nikolay Zherdev, a Flyer who hasn't played since March 6th. In the final 20 minutes, Zherdev made his presence felt.
After dominating play for over a minute in the offensive zone, Claude Giroux, standing behind the net, completed a pass to Zherdev (standing at the bottom of the circle to Hedberg's right). From here, the rarely used forward put the puck right on the stick of Jeff Carter in the crease. Putting home his team-leading 36th goal of the year, Carter tied the game at two with 15:42 left in regulation.
All the work the Flyers put in to equalize the game quickly vanished. A flashy solo effort by Kovalchuk led to his deceitful pass (faking a slapshot) from the slot to Nick Palmieri, who standing to the right of Brian Boucher. The goal came 4:37 after Carter's goal giving New Jersey the one-goal lead again with only 11:05 left in regulation.
Despite putting forth a strong effort to tie the game at three, the Flyers saw Elias net his third goal on the net with little time left. As the puck bounced in off of his skate with 2:46 left in regulation, Elias had himself a hat-trick and the Devils had a two-goal lead.
Peter Laviolette pulled Boucher and the Flyers showed some of their best offensive pressure on the night, but the orange and black couldn't find the back of the net late in the game as the Devils hung on for the 4-2 victory.
This loss stings for several reasons. For one, a win tonight essentially meant the Flyers win the Atlantic division. With a win tonight, the only way the Flyers could have lost the division would have been with the Penguins winning their last four games and if Philly had obtained only a point over their last four games. Now, the Flyers need to obtain four points over their next four games to make the playoffs.
Another reason is the loss tonight hurts the Flyers' chances of winning the conference. As it currently stands, the Flyers and Caps have both played 78 games; the Flyers have 102 points and the Caps have 101. Looking at the remaining four games for both teams, the Flyers have the harder schedule. Playing two teams currently in the playoffs, Philly plays the Rangers, Senators, Sabres, and Islanders; the Caps play the Sabres, Maple Leafs, and Panthers (twice).
Notes: This is Elias's first hat-trick since April 5, 2006 against the Penguins. With his goal in the first, JVR became the seventh Flyer to register at least 20 goals this season; Ville Leino has 19 goals. Thanks in part to Thursday's game, the Flyers went 82:12 without scoring a goal (Leino's second goal against Pitt on Tuesday til JVR's goal tonight). Philly didn't score a single goal against Martin Brodeur this season (19 saves on 19 shots in relief appearance in 2-1 loss on January 8th); this is the first season Brodeur hasn't allowed a goal against Philly since the 1993-1994 season (never played Philly that season). This is the first time both Elias and Rolston have had multi-point games in the same night since February 16th (Elias:1 G,1 A/Rolston:1 G,1A in 3-2 win vs. Hurricanes). The Flyers are 5-3-3 against non-playoff teams since the beginning of March. The Flyers went 3-2-1 against New Jersey in the 2010-2011 regular season and are now 16-4-2 against the Atlantic division this season (PIT 4-1-1, NYR 4-1-0, NJD 3-2-1, NYI 5-0-0).