JAMES VAN Riemsdyk carved into the New Jersey zone on the freshly shaven sudden-death ice and shifted to his backhand, taking two stabs at one puck that would have exorcised the Devils on Sunday.
Martin Brodeur stretched out his left pad on both.
Gathering his senses after the near-miss, van Riemsdyk twirled around the net and parked his lanky, 6-3 frame in front of the future Hall of Famer - the same goaltender he dreamed of scoring on while playing as a kid in his Middletown, N.J., driveway.
It was van Riemsdyk who would have had the best view of Danny Briere's subsequent overtime blast, which delivered the Flyers a 4-3 victory over New Jersey in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series, except JVR didn't see the puck squirt through his own legs.
"I don't even know what happened there," van Riemsdyk admitted. "I was getting hacked in all kinds of directions. I got hacked a couple times and pushed by Marty."
Van Riemsdyk wasn't aware that it was his crease-jostling that disabled Brodeur from making the game-saving stop.
"Definitely, van Riemsdyk pushed my stick over when he came across," Brodeur said. "He didn't do it on purpose. I think he's just going to the front of the net, and I've got my position there. But it prevented me from making the save, and it was so quick like that for the referees. They have a tough job there because they see it live."
The Flyers are 23-8 all-time in playoff series in which they win Game 1. In all three previous series between the Flyers and Devils, the victor in Game 1 has gone on to take the series. The Flyers also have never lost an overtime game against New Jersey, going 3-0 in overtime games with goals from Briere (Sunday), Dan Carcillo (2010), and Eric Lindros (1995).
Game 2 is Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, where the Flyers are 14-7 in playoff games since 2010.
Van Riemsdyk was not credited with the overtime goal, though it was reviewed a few times by the official scorers, since it seemed to change direction before clearing Brodeur's unguarded five-hole. He was not credited with an assist, though the entire play would not have been possible without van Riemsdyk's strong take to the Devils net in the first place.
That was just one striking sequence in a big effort for van Riemsdyk, who also scored his first goal since Jan. 5, as he was on the ice for three of the Flyers' four goals on Sunday.
For coach Peter Laviolette, it was vintage van Riemsdyk - a brilliant full-game flashback of last spring's playoff run that garnered the kid a $25.5 million payday last summer. Sunday was just JVR's first full playoff game since last year.
He played a combined 14:17 in Games 5 and 6 against Pittsburgh in his first contests since March 1, as Laviolette wanted to ease him back into the lineup. On Sunday, van Riemsdyk was back playing big minutes with Briere and Jake Voracek. He also replaced Brayden Schenn on the power play.
"Once we got going as a group, James really factored into the game with his size and speed," Laviolette said. "He hadn't had at that point a whole lot of competition, even in drills and practice. The week [off] really provided an opportunity to push him with his conditioning and his pace and his on-ice play. After a good week of practice, we wanted to put him in the position where he could try to be successful and I thought he was."
Van Riemsdyk sat for 23 straight games after foot surgery on March 1, but he's aiming for a playoff run to save what has been a mostly forgettable season. He missed four games in late November with an abdominal tear and an additional 15 games with a concussion in January and February.
"It was nice to get some more opportunity there," van Riemsdyk said. "[Laviolette] said he was going to ease me in a bit from the start, the last series. I was able to take advantage of some of the chances I got."
Van Riemsdyk's chances, and his speed, helped turn the tide for the Flyers, who trailed 1-0 entering the second period on Sunday. It took the Flyers a full 10:02 to net their first shot on goal of the game. By then, New Jersey had jumped out to an 11-0 shots lead. The Flyers outshot the Devils, 36-15, to close out the game.
Claude Giroux scored his playoff-leading seventh goal on a power-play slapper in the third period. It was the only goal that van Riemsdyk's newly minted line didn't factor on. Van Riemsdyk's new trio gives the Flyers an important one-two punch after Giroux's well-marked unit.
If you can figure it, Van Riemsdyk, 22, is young enough to have a brother who played last year with Brodeur's sons on a youth hockey team in North Jersey. Brodeur turns 40 on May 6. Van Riemsdyk admitted the series has a little bit of a "hometown flavor for him."
When he's skating with a full stride, he is the bull no opponent wants to face. Just ask Brodeur.
"As a defenseman, when you see him coming at you, it's really hard to play 1-on-1 against him," Kimmo Timonen said. "He skates really hard, and he has the puck, he's one of the better skaters in the league. That's the way he needs to play. I can't wait to see more."
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