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  • Balanced Devils advance to conference final Print
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    Written by Mike Cook   
    Tuesday, 08 May 2012 23:28

    The New Jersey Devils' relentless attack suffocated the Philadelphia Flyers throughout the five games, just as it did in the last two games of their series against the Florida Panthers in the conference quarterfinals. 

    When the Stanley Cup playoffs began, the teams most often mentioned to win the Eastern Conference were probably the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers.

    Like happens nearly every year, New Jersey was overlooked by just about everyone outside The Garden State, and once again the Devils are proving just about everyone wrong.

    Martin BrodeurBryce Salvador, David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk scored and Martin Brodeur stopped 27 shots as the Devils played a sound game at both ends of the ice to beat Philadelphia 3-1 Tuesday and win the conference semifinal series 4-1.

    It is the Devils' first trip to the conference finals since 2003, when they beat Ottawa in seven games en route to the Stanley Cup.

    “You don’t want to give a team that’s so good a little life,” Brodeur said. “We were able to get to them somehow and we played extremely well. They had a hard time breaking us.”

    The Devils' relentless attack suffocated the Flyers throughout the five games, just as it did in the last two games of the Florida series in the conference quarterfinals. New Jersey beat the Panthers in double-overtime of Game 7 to win that series.

    Throughout the playoffs, the Devils' success has started with an aggressive forecheck in the offensive zone and has been backed up by strong defensive play inside the New Jersey blue line where opponents have been limited mostly to perimeter shots and have multiple defenders around them when handling the puck. The Devils allowed just 11 goals in the five games against Philadelphia.

    “I think the biggest thing for us was our forechecking. We made it very tough for them to get out of the zone for the most part,” captain Zach Parise told the NBC Sports Network. “Tonight, I thought they played a good game and made it hard for us. But when we were able to get the puck deep and take away the walls they had a hard time getting out.”

    But to advance in the postseason, a team had better have a solid last line of defense. At this time of year, is there another goalie a team would want between the pipes other than the 40-year-old Brodeur? Tuesday’s win was the 107th postseason victory for a netminder that has won the Stanley Cup at ages 23, 28 and 31. In 12 postseason games this year, Brodeur has a 2.05 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.

    “We’ve said all along when we have a breakdown he’s there to bail us out,” Parise said. “I think we got to give a lot of credit to our defensemen, too. We’re not giving up a lot of quality chances, and they’re clearing the lanes and letting him see the puck. … Our best defense right now is us having the puck and forechecking and making theirClaude Giroux good players stop in their D zone. I thought for the whole series we made it pretty tough on their top guys.”

    Philadelphia played without Claude Giroux. The leading scorer in the playoffs was suspended for a game for his hit to the head of Danius Zubrus in Game 4.

    It may not have mattered.

    “Their forecheck and their defense didn’t allow us to get into the game we wanted and we could never seem to get down that road,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said.

    Max Talbot gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead scoring on a scramble in front at 7:18 of the opening period, but Salvador tied the game little more than two minutes later when his shot from atop the left circle deflected off a stick and beat Ilya Bryzgalov over the right shoulder.

    Then the blunder of the playoffs occurred when Bryzgalov tried to clear the puck at the right post, but it went right off Clarkson and into the Flyers' net for a 2-1 Devils lead.

    A slapshot by Kovalchuk 5 minutes into the third iced the win.

    “The fact that is we’ve had four lines and six defensemen, we’ve gotten winning goals from seven or eight different people through the playoffs,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. “Our team game is what is making us successful, not any individuals.”



    Photos by Getty Images

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    Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 May 2012 01:48