Ponikarovsky, Kovalchuk give Devils series lead

Alexei Ponikarovsky potted his own rebound at 17:21 of overtime on Thursday night to give the New Jersey Devils a 4-3 home victory over the Phiadelphia Flyers.

Alexei Ponikarovsky potted his own rebound at 17:21 of overtime on Thursday night to give the New Jersey Devils a 4-3 home victory over the Phiadelphia Flyers.

The Devils lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series 2-1.

New Jersey skaters will try and give star goalie Martin Brodeur a 40th birthday present on Sunday back at Prudential Center for Game 4 (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET).

Ponikarovsky took an Ilya Kovalchuk pass in stride at the Philadelphia blue-line and found a seam between two Flyers, skating in on the left side and beating Ilya Bryzgalov with his second shot.

"I just got off the bench and I think Kovy had the puck at our blue-line and their players were going to change and I just [found] the hole," said Ponikarovsky.

Philadelphia forward Daniel Briere scored his NHL-best eighth of the playoffs with under 10 minutes left in the third to help send the game in overtime.

Brayden Schenn opened the scoring for the Flyers with a power-play goal just over six minutes into the first, but the Devils had the lead just under seven minutes later after scoring twice in 20 seconds.

Kovalchuk finished with a goal and two assists. He assisted on a Patrik Elias power-play score in the first and then scored his fourth of the playoffs moments later.

Kovalchuk was back in the lineup after missing Game 2 due to a back injury.

"He knows how to put the puck in the net and make some plays," said Ponikarovsky. "It's great to have him back ... he made a big contribution for the win."

Matt Carle tied the game again in the second for the Flyers but was victimized along with defensive partner Andreas Lilja early in the third as Elias set up Zach Parise for a 3-2 New Jersey lead that would only last four minutes. 

Philadelphia lost for the first time in overtime this spring, having won their previous two such contests. New Jersey is now 3-1 in overtime games this postseason.

Brodeur finished with 25 saves, with counterpart Bryzgalov stopping 27 shots.

Schenn nearly won the game eight minutes into overtime with a deflection in front and then the Devils' penalty kill did an outstanding job after a controversial boarding call against Dainius Zubrus with 11:37 left in the overtime and a delay-of-game penalty against Bryce Salvador.

DeBoer said some of the penalties in the game left him "speechless."

"I thought we actually grabbed some momentum from our penalty kill [in overtime]," DeBoer said.

On the other side, the Flyers were lamenting a 1-for-5 ledger with the man advantage.

"The power play won us a lot of games this year and tonight wasn't the case," said star forward Claude Giroux.

The first two periods were distinct with the Devils dominating the final 11 minutes of the opening session and the Flyers having the upper hand for most of the second.

Schenn put the Flyers ahead with a power-play goal 6:08 after the opening faceoff. Briere set up Schenn's third postseason goal with a pass from along the goal line that found Schenn low in the left circle. His shot beat Brodeur to the short side.

After falling behind 1-0 early, the Devils outshot Philadelphia 10-3 and grabbed the lead when Elias and Kovalchuk tallied in a 20-second span, the fastest two postseason goals in franchise history.

With Braydon Coburn off for tripping, Elias tied the score with a shot from the right circle that went off Bryzgalov's glove. Kovalchuk snared the secondary assist on the play, sending a pass from the left point to defenseman Marek Zidlicky, who slid it to Elias.

Kovalchuk's goal came on a quick counterattack in which he came late down the middle, took a pass from Travis Zajac and wristed a shot past the Flyers' goalie. The Russian, who had never been part of a winning team in an NHL series until this year's first round vs. the Panthers, pumped his fists in celebration.

Carle tied the game at 2-2 at 4:44 of the second with a blast from the top of the left circle that was set up by Jakub Voracek. The forward took a pass along the right boards, skated around the net and found an unguarded Carle coming in from the point for a shot that whizzed by Brodeur.

The goal came minutes after Bryzgalov stopped Adam Henrique on a breakaway to prevent New Jersey from taking a 3-1 lead.

After Parise put the Devils up 3-2, Kovalchuk came within inches of making it a two-goal lead minutes later when he had a shot hit off the crossbar as Bryzgalov looked behind him.

Philadelphia tied the game on somewhat of a gift from Brodeur. The netminder could not control a weak shot from the outside of the left face-off circle by James van Riemsdyk, and Briere chipped the rebound over his pads. He has scored goals in five of nine playoff games.

The Flyers lost teen Sean Couturier early, as he sustained a lower-body injury in the first period and did not return.

With files from CBCSports.ca