Flyers eliminate Devils
Brian Boucher's series-clinching shutout and Ian Laperriere's battered and bloodied face are the only pieces of evidence necessary to show why the Philadelphia Flyers are moving on to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Cast aside as a journeyman who didn't have much left, Boucher rose from third on the Flyers' goalie depth-chart due to injuries and helped Philadelphia eliminate the New Jersey Devils in five games.
Given a second chance to knock out New Jersey 10 years after squandering the opportunity, Boucher was brilliant in making 27 saves as Philadelphia won 3-0 on Thursday night. The Flyers were the last team into the playoffs, but are the first to advance.
"It's nice to end this tonight," Boucher said. "When you're up 3-1, they're looking for any sign of life that they can get. We did a great job."
Claude Giroux scored twice in the second period after Danny Briere had given the Flyers a 1-0 lead in the first. Boucher made the offence stand up as Philadelphia beat New Jersey for the ninth time in 11 meetings this season.
It came with a price as Laperriere was left with a nasty cut over his right eye that took 60-70 stitches to close after he went down to block Paul Martin's shot in the third period. Philadelphia lost top forwards Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, who both broke their right foot by blocking shots in Game 4.
That opened the door for Giroux to shine.
"I don't think you can replace Jeff Carter, but I really wanted to play a good game," Giroux said. "The whole team played well."
Back in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals, Boucher and the Flyers let a 3-1 series lead slip away to the Devils, who went on to win the Stanley Cup. Boucher finished them off this time with his second playoff shutout.
"People have asked me if this takes away what happened 10 years ago. Not really," Boucher said. "That stings. We were on our way to the Stanley Cup finals and we lost. This feels nice to move on to the second round. It's a whole new situation."
The Flyers's most likely second-round opponent is Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington, which leads 3-1 against Montreal.
Philadelphia did its damage despite a relatively low shot total on Martin Brodeur. Giroux, who also assisted on Briere's second of the series, scored his two goals in the second when the Flyers recorded only four shots. They were outshot 18-14 through 40 minutes, yet led 3-0.
The Devils face a disappointing end to a season that showed promise. New Jersey won the Atlantic Division title for the ninth time, reached 100 points for the 12th time in 15 seasons, and qualified for the playoffs for the 13th straight season.
But they are left with a third straight first-round ouster, despite earning the No. 2 seed in the East and finishing 15 points ahead of the Flyers.
"I just don't believe it," Brodeur said. "It's tough to digest. We had a hell of a team here. For whatever reason, we never got to the level we needed to play at in the playoffs. There were more expectations from our club than to fold in five games.
"This is three years in a row we accomplished nothing."
The Devils were booed in the second and third periods and heard chants of "Let's Go Flyers" echo through their building. New Jersey hasn't made it out of the first round since moving from the Meadowlands to the new Prudential Center in 2007. The Devils are 3-7 in post-season home games following the team's relocation to Newark.
"We've put together some pretty good regular seasons to give ourselves these opportunities," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "The last few years we [gave] away those opportunities in the first round where we had chances with good teams."
Philadelphia didn't gain its post-season spot until a shootout victory over the New York Rangers on the final day.
The Flyers won the series opener in New Jersey before dropping Game 2. The Flyers took control on home ice when Daniel Carcillo scored the winning goal in overtime, and then put the Devils on the brink of elimination with a 4-1 victory in Game 4 on Tuesday.
Boucher kept the Flyers in the game as he protected a 1-0 lead with a series of spectacular saves against the hard-charging Devils in the first period.
Ilya Kovalchuk, who confidently predicted a Devils victory, tested Boucher in the opening minute with a hard drive that bounced into the slot off the goalie's pad. Zach Parise whiffed as he attempted a shot off the rebound.
"It's embarrassing," said Kovalchuk, acquired in a midseason trade from Atlanta. "We've got a great team but they just outplayed us, totally. They were missing a couple of guys but were still able to do it. We did not deserve to win."
Boucher heard the first chants of "Boosh" from the partisan Flyers fans, who made the short trip up the New Jersey Turnpike, just after the 10-minute mark following a stop against Martin. Late in the period, Boucher turned aside a dangerous one-timer by David Clarkson and then denied Parise on a partial short-handed breakaway.
Giroux made it 2-0 with 8:12 in the second with a drive that bounced in and out of the net in a flash. The goal was confirmed by video replay. He added his second of the night and fourth of the series 1:59 later during a power play off a pass in front by Scott Hartnell.
New Jersey produced three goals during the two games at Philadelphia, all on the power play, but went 0-for-8 in Game 5.
The Devils didn't record an even-strength goal in the final three contests.