Zubrus’s late goal leads Devils to a crucial Game 2 win

If Game 2 at the Rock wasn’t quite a must-win for the Devils it certainly had a (cough) Red Alert-type urgency attached to it, especially after New Jersey lost the lead twice in the first two periods last night. With the game heading towards overtime still tied and the Devils just missing chance after chance, someone had to step up late in the game. Eventually someone did, though even now it remains unclear who.
Danius Zubrus was credited with the game-winning goal at 15:56 of the third period, but from my vantage point it looked like Zach Parise had it, as both took a whack at a loose puck in front of Brian Boucher. Either way it was a dominant shift from those two and Patrik Elias that led to a breakthrough goal, giving the Devils just enough firepower to get back in the series after Ilya Kovalchuk‘s empty-netter sealed a wild win with 33 seconds left.
At times, both teams appeared cautious in Game 1 but that wouldn’t be the case in Game 2. Early and often both teams showed the emotion you would expect from a playoff game between two rivals, and this was evident early when Kovalchuk took a penalty for elbowing just 87 seconds in. Yet, the Devils turned a negative into a positive when Elias sprung Parise for a shorthanded breakaway and the team’s leading goalscorer beat Boucher with a nice move at 2:45 to get the towels waving at the Rock.
Unfortunately that momentum wouldn’t last too long. Despite an edge in shots on goal during the first period, the Devils would find themselves trailing heading into the locker room. Of all people, Aaron Asham got the Flyers on the board at 9:33 when he beat Rob Niedermayer to the net and scored an easy tap-in goal after a feed from Claude Giroux. Figures that the guy does nothing for us but he turns back into the pain in the butt he was with the Isles once he put on a Flyers uniform.
To complicate matters, the refs started to get in the way as well. When Clarkson made a brilliant play to foil a breakaway from behind he got whistled for tripping despite making contact with the puck first and Giroux would take advantage at 15:30, deflecting a Matt Carle shot past Martin Brodeur for a power-play goal. All too often last night I was bemoaning phantom calls against us and non-calls against the team in white and orange, two of which would lead directly to goals (more on the second later).
Be that as it may, the Devils would rebound in the second period with an unlikely offensive weapon scoring at 3:44 to tie the game again. His name? Colin White – and it wasn’t even one of Whitey’s slapshots that happened to get on net, it was a wrist shot that somehow trickled through Boucher. Just shows what can happen when you actually put the puck on net. Kovalchuk and Mike Mottau got the assists on Whitey’s first playoff goal in a decade, which inspired the Devils. Despite having to deal with four seperate Flyer power plays in the second period the Devils outshot Philly 16-12 and dominated play at even-strength.
Fortunately we would take advantage of our lone power play in the period when Andy Greene followed up a dominating shift on the penalty kill by going to the net and tipping an Elias shot home with the man advantage at 13:25, giving the Devils a 3-2 lead. Though Kovalchuk got another secondary assist on the goal, he looked too anxious throughout – taking no fewer than three minor penalties including allowing Darroll Powe to goad him into a matching minor late in the period.
Yet, it was another nonexistent penalty call on Greene (away from the puck to boot) that really got my ire and that of coach Jacques Lemaire, who joked after the game that ‘he’d like to talk about the officials but can’t’. Sure enough, Chris Pronger scored at 18:48 to tie the game again on another deflection goal in front, after we’d missed several chances over the prior few minutes to extend our lead. Early in the third period the Flyers looked like they would take that momentum and ride it to a devastating 0-2 start at the Rock as they got the majority of chances including their seventh power play – to just three for us – and in particular, Brodeur had to be sharp on a two-on-one by making the initial save and stoning Ian Laperriere on a rebound.
Finally the momentum started to shift back again once play returned to even strength but even then I was getting worried as we were missing chance after chance, including one where Brian Rolston had a wide-open Rob Niedermayer in front of the net but didn’t see him and passed too late, where the play died. Kovalchuk and Jamie Langenbrunner had a two-on-one but either Kovalchuk shot it woefully high or Boucher managed to tip it with his glove. Plus (as has been the usual lately) Kovalchuk passed up several opportunities to fire his howitzer of a slap shot, leading me to believe he’s hiding an injury. Really he hasn’t used the slapshot much at all since early March when he got whacked on the hand twice, it seems like he’s playing with half an arsenal only looking for wrist shots.
With all this tension I was getting worried about overtime, but Lemaire finally managed to get Parise on the ice at a time where Pronger was not and his line took advantage with a terrific shift, getting several chances before finally Zubrus scored off of assists from his other linemates, to give the Devils the lead. Even that made me nervous though, with our penchant for blowing late playoff leads and the Flyers immediately got a couple of good chances off the faceoff so I couldn’t exactly enjoy the goal too long before reality set in. Finally, with Boucher pulled we managed to clear the zone a couple of times and Kovalchuk’s wrister found the back of the net, ending it for all intents and purposes despite Peter Laviolette‘s odd timeout down two with half a minute left that nearly made me miss my 10:32 train back to Madison.
Much to my relief there would be no dramatic flops last night and the Devils sewed up a 5-3 win that evened the series. You could look at Game 2 one of two ways, either that our late win gives us momentum and we’ve played a bit better than the Flyers overall in the first two games or that despite throwing everything at them in a must-win at home, we barely managed to survive the second game. It would be nice to see what happens if the calls even out in Game 3, but hey we won in spite of the inconsistent refs and got some unexpected contributions as well as our star players getting on the board, both of which you need at this time of year.
BoNY Three Stars:
  1. Zach Parise (goal, assist, +2 and 6 SOG in 20:06)
  2. Andy Greene (goal and 3 SOG in 20:40)
  3. Claude Giroux (goal, assist)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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