NEWARK, N.J. -- For people who play hockey at this time of year, the desperate search is for victory in any of its many shapes and forms: pretty, ugly, does not matter. For people who watch hockey and write about hockey at this time of year, the quest is for a narrative to explain it all, to validate every personal preconception and cover every eventuality.
So far, through three games of Flyers and Devils, that story cannot yet be written. The plot has not yet been fleshed out, and preconception has been turned on its head. Each team has taken turns making the other side look slow and inept, and there still is no obvious explanation for why the momentum has switched and then switched back and then switched again.
There is only this:
For the Flyers, a sense of creeping danger.
The game was 2-2 after the second period. When Zach Parise scored at 7:29 to give the New Jersey the lead, it seemed as if the Devils were on the verge of grabbing control of the series. When Danny Briere did what Danny Briere does -- that is, score a goal in the spring, this time by choppingj at a bouncing rebound and making enough contact to get the puck past Marty Brodeur -- it was tied again at 3-3. Ebb was flow and flow was ebb and the only certainty was that someone was ultimately going to be knocked over by a wave they did not see coming.
And then it happened: In overtime, a thrilling overtime, the Devils' Alexei Ponikarovsky banged in his own rebound at 17:21 and New Jersey took the game, 4-3. The Devils now lead the series, two games to one.
And now, for the Flyers, it gets interesting.
In about 10 periods of hockey, the Flyers have dominated about 3 1/2 of them and the Devils have dominated about 4 1/2 of them. There has not been a lot to choose from the two sides, when you tote it up that way. The Flyers have yet to match the dominance that the Devils showed in Game 2 on Tuesday night, but when they have been good, they have been very good.
The second period Thursday night was crucial for the Flyers. After being run out of the Wells Fargo Center in the last two periods of Game 2, they again were dominated completely in the first period of Game 3. The two-day break solved none of their problems. They looked slow, and very tentative trying to bring the puck out of their zone against the Devils' forecheck.
Two periods on one day is still only one bad day. But the carryover into Game 3 threatened to become a baffling trend, one for which there was no obvious answer. The Flyers had to re-establish something, and quickly, or risk being run out of a series that seemed theirs for the taking after they dominated Game 1.
It is why the second period was so important -- because the Flyers did re-establish themselves, both in a physical way and a speed way. The passes out of their end were quicker and the neutral zone became friendlier as a result. They had nine shots in the period to the Devils' four. They got the tying goal from Matt Carle, after a nice pass from Jakub Voracek. They thought they got the go-ahead goal on a power play from James van Riemsdyk, but it was immediately disallowed because of a whiff of goaltender interference by Brayden Schenn against Brodeur. Then again, the Flyers never should have been on the power play in the first place because the officials missed the fact that Ilya Kovalchuk did not shoot the puck out of the rink for delay of game, but rather deflected it off of Matt Read's stick.
Whatever. The point was, the Flyers did stabilize things. They did re-find their legs. The third period still somewhat belonged to the Devils, but it was very competitive. There was some equilibrium. And then, into overtime it went.
It was a long game. It still looks like it is going to be a long series. Other than that, it is hard to know what to say.