By Tim Panaccio in Philadelphia
Philadelphia Flyers forward Brayden Schenn said it best when asked about New Jersey Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk in Game 1.
"He didn't look the same last game as before," Schenn said.
That's because Kovalchuk, who will not play in Tuesday's Game 2 of the NHL Eastern Conference semifinals against the Flyers (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m.), has a lower body injury.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello made the announcement at the morning skate, adding Kovalchuk remained home in Newark, N.J.
Devils centre Patrik Elias said the team was hoping for a quick return of Kovalchuk.
"No one can take away from him when he plays on top of his game what a great player he is, and he is a big part of our team and he's dangerous," Elias said. "He makes the other team think. He hasn't been himself. He has been obviously hurting a little bit and this is the decision they made.
"For us, we're going to have guys playing a little more minutes, different lines, different situations. Guys are going to be stepping in on the power play and all that. But it happens. It happens throughout the regular season and it happens throughout the playoffs many times and you've got guys stepping in.
"But Kovy will tell you, you need healthy guys there. You need healthy guys. It is a team sport at the end of the day. I believe we'll just work our butts off tonight as a team. It's not about one guy. We know what Kovy brings to the table every night and his offensive skills and he's a threat out there every time, but we're going to work our [rear ends] off [in Game 2] and try to get a win here as a team."
There are different reports as to what is ailing Kovalchuk. Some say it's a groin pull. Others say it's a back issue.
"There will be no other further comments on Ilya's situation," Lamoriello said, adding he will be listed as day to day.
This is obviously good news for the Flyers, no?
"They're still a dangerous team," Danny Briere said. "Kovalchuk is not their only dangerous player. We saw that last game and almost got burned by different guys.
"In the playoffs, it doesn't really matter who is in the lineup. The games are so closely played, the intensity. We can't think it is going to be easier with him in or out of the lineup.
"You always have different guys stepping up, even more when a star player is out of the lineup. They can rally around that. That's just as dangerous.
"We saw that in the first round. [Pittsburgh's] James Neal was suspended for one game. And what was the score that game? ... That is why it's dangerous. We have to play the same way if he is in or out of the lineup."
The Flyers lost Game 4 of the Pittsburgh series, 10-3, when Neal sat out along with fellow forwards Arron Asham and Craig Adams.
Travis Zajac's line was minus-3 in Game 1 against the Flyers. Kovalchuk didn't even register a shot on goal. Now we know why.
"It was all right," Zajac said of his line. "I think we were fine in the first [period] and as the game went on we kind of dipped a little bit.
But it happens. We'll be better as the series goes on."
Devils head coach Peter DeBoer has to scramble his lineup for Game 2 because the team doesn't have that many options available to them.
For starters, defenceman Peter Harrold will move to right wing on the fourth line with Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta, according to The Record of Bergen County. The Devils' top two lines will also change.
Patrik Elias now centres Zach Parise and David Clarkson. Zajac will centre Alexei Ponikarovsky and Dainius Zubrus.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he won't change things because of Kovalchuk's absence.
"Pittsburgh ended up losing a couple of players and came back to beat us," Laviolette said. "All teams are competitive. They'll do things a little bit differently without him but it will still be a tough game for us."
Less traffic, more traffic
It depends upon your viewpoint. The Flyers feel they need to continue to make it difficult for Devils goalie Marty Brodeur to see pucks.
Danny Briere's game-winning goal in overtime of Game 1 saw a lot of traffic in front with James van Riemsdyk creating havoc in the crease and, according to Brodeur, using his stick to knock Brodeur's stick out of reach to make a save.
"Philly is a big, strong team with a lot of depth up front," DeBoer said. "You know they're going to go to the net hard. You've got guys like [Scott] Hartnell and [Wayne] Simmonds.
"They're going to go to the net hard, so we've got to do a better job of boxing out in front of Marty and you've got to limit the amount of time they spend in your end of the ice. The best defence is a good forecheck and spending time in their end."
Serving as a mentor
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette moved winger James van Riemsdyk to Briere's line with Jakub Voracek to get him going this series, now that JVR is fully healed from a foot fracture suffered during the final quarter of the regular season.
Briere, a consummate playoff performer, has been talking to the soon-to-be 23-year-old from the day the kid arrived, encouraging him.
"I remember his first year," Briere said. "I'm not going to take credit for the way he played last year or last night ... how well he's been playing in the playoffs. That's all him, figuring it out and stepping up at the right time.
"You can have that chat with other guys and he's not the only one. You help the young guys as much as possible, but it's all on themselves to figure it out. You look at Claude [Giroux], he's becoming a playoff beast as well.
"The key with [JVR] is his speed and his size. We have assets and you have to use them to your advantage. The way he skates, there aren't many guys who can skate with him [that have] the size and reach. When he brings that, he's tough to stop. I think those are his biggest assets."
Tim Panaccio reports on the Flyers for CSNPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @tpanotchCSN
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