After controlling play early on and jumping out to a quick 1-0 lead in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals Tuesday night, the Philadelphia Flyers inexplicably eased up the intensity-level of their feverish attack against the New Jersey Devils.
Matt Read had staked the Flyers to the lead with a goal that showed extreme persistence, then Danny Briere took a James van Riemsdyk feed and wired a shot that beat Martin Brodeur, but rang off the crossbar.
It was that close to being 2-0.
The fourth line provided a dominating shift, and Philly nearly scored while killing a penalty. Eric Wellwood was everywhere.
It appeared they were quite content with what they had done in the game's first 10 minutes, as they sat back and seemed to think their early-game effort was enough to send the Ilya Kovalchuk-less Devils quietly back to Newark trailing their best-of-seven set, 0-2.
One team did end up going quietly into the night, but it wasn't the visitors.
Philadelphia played without the "jam" that head coach Peter Laviolette so frequently mentions, and without that key component as part of the recipe for the game's final 50 minutes, New Jersey eventually wore down Ilya Bryzgalov -- who was one of the few players wearing orange and black who bothered to show up for the last 50 minutes of the game -- on the way to sending the home club to a 4-1 defeat.
By virtue of the victory, the Devils gained an all-important split and now control home ice advantage as the series shifts to the Prudential Center, knotted at a game apiece.
Following an opening frame that saw Philadelphia dominate the territorial play for large stretches, the second effort that is often necessary to make something happen appeared to evaporate rather quickly. The Flyers couldn't seem to even complete a pass, especially on the rare occasion when they were able to get into the New Jersey zone with puck possession.
Philly failed to send a single shot Brodeur's way in the second period until the final minute and a half of the stanza, a period that saw the Devils rack up the first 12 shots before Claude Giroux was able to finally record a shot with 1:27 remaining. That "feat" was understandably met with a well-deserved and obligatory Bronx cheer from the Wells Fargo Center faithful.
It was just that kind of night for the Flyers, as they hung on for dear life and relied on Bryzgalov to save their hides time and time again. Though his team was badly outplayed and outshot by a 25-11 margin through two periods, the Russian netminder was somehow able to keep New Jersey off the scoreboard heading into the third.
After not registering a shot on their third power play of the contest to open the third, there appeared to be a sign of life when Marek Zidlicky elbowed Wellwood in the jaw to give Philadelphia another man advantage 1:39 into the frame.
But the opportunity to notch an insurance goal was short-lived when Scott Hartnell took a holding the stick minor just 13 seconds into the power play.
With the disparity in play and Bryzgalov under constant seige, what followed next was hardly surprising, and probably inevitable.
The fact that Travis Zajac added an insurance marker and Bryce Salvador threw a long trick shot that moved like a Mexican jumping bean skittered into the empty net with Bryzgalov pulled for an extra attacker seemed almost inconsequential to the evenings festivities.
It appeared the Flyers were resigned to the pending outcome after the Clarkson tally.
"It’s pretty disappointing having a one goal lead going into the third period (and coming away with a loss)," Read said after the game. "You just have to win a period to win a game and have a 2-0 lead going into New Jersey, but we didn’t take advantage of the situation. We came out flat and they took advantage of it. Now it's 1-1."
Despite making 31 saves -- and many of the difficult variety -- Bryzgalov ended up as the night's hard-luck loser. But his teammates all pointed out in their post-game interviews it was their goalie who kept them in the game.
"He was our best player by far today," said defenseman Kimmo Timonen. "He was solid out there. He played really well and he gave us a chance to win the game but we couldn’t get that for him."
"He was unbelievable," added Jaromir Jagr. "If he wasn’t in the net and didn’t make those saves, it would be a different story. We would be probably down a lot after the first. He kept us in the game, he gave us a chance to win, but we had nothing today."
So what was missing after the first ten minutes of the contest?
There was absolutely no jump in the overall Philadelphia attack from that point on, and the top line of Hartnell, Giroux, and Jagr did very little. The trio combined for just four shots on goal -- two by Giroux, and one from each of his wingers.
While Jagr isn't the most physical of players, it was an oddity to see both Hartnell and Giroux with zero hits by game's end. This would indicate that neither was "engaged", as Laviolette has called it.
As a matter of fact, there was a general lack of physicality to the home team's play, as the Devils outhit Philadelphia, 32-24.
The Flyers looked as if they were more in one of their late-Winter, weekend afternoon sleepwalking modes. The club's collective foot left the accelerator for the last 50 minutes of regulation, choosing instead to put it on cruise control when takinng a firm grasp on the series was well within their reach.
After making such crucial contributions to Sunday's Game 1 overtime triumph, both Briere and van Riemsdyk were non-factors in Game 2. Both finished with a -3 rating, with Briere recorded three shots on goal, and JvR none.
The final score was not all due to only a lack of what the Flyers brought to the table. New Jersey was the hungrier, more desperate team the entire night.
Not only did the Devils outshoot Philadelphia by a wide 35-20 margin, they also led in missed shots, 12-5. Throw in the fact that Philly skaters blocked 23 shots while Jersey players only needed to block 12, and the ridiculously lopsided 70-37 chasm between the shots attempted towards the net is very indicative of which team had possession of the puck for the majority of the game, and which end of the ice the action was taking place.
"I think they showed more desperation than we did all night," noted a disappointed Briere. "It shows in the box score. The last two periods, even though we were up 1-0, we didn't deserve it. If it wasn't for (Bryzgalov), we didn't deserve to be up after two periods. Even then at the beginning of the third period, we sat back way too much and their desperation got rewarded for it."
The contest closely resembled some of the losses to the New York Rangers from the past year. You know, the kind where it looks like there are more opposing players on the ice at all times, even when the Flyers are on the power play.
According to the head coach, much of that was due to the Devils' movement compared to his club's, especially on the power play. After a torrid 12-23 success rate against the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one, Philadelphia went 0-5 last night -- failing to pick up one shot on goal duiring the first four -- and is now just 1-11 against New Jersey in the first two games of the series.
"Their skating was better, to take time and space on the penalty kill quicker than our movement, so we’ve got to do things faster I think on the power play," Laviolette said following the loss.
After all is said and done, it's just one game that the Flyers need to forget and just move on.
"It’s one of those things you have to learn from it," said Timonen. "Its 1-1 now, we’re going to New Jersey, and I’m sure we’re going to talk about it tomorrow. It’s a bad loss but it’s a playoff game. You take it, you learn from it, you watch the tape and you move on."