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Flyers fall into Devils' trap

Maybe Peter Laviolette had a premonition.

The Flyers went almost the entire second period without attempting a shot. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
The Flyers went almost the entire second period without attempting a shot. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

Maybe Peter Laviolette had a premonition.

After the morning skate, after he learned that New Jersey star winger Ilya Kovalchuk would not play Tuesday night because of an apparent back injury, the Flyers coach issued a warning of sorts.

"I don't think we should fall into a trap," he said, "and think it's going to be easy."

Yet, it appeared that's just what the Flyers did as they sleepwalked to a well-deserved 4-1 loss to the Devils at the stunned Wells Fargo Center.

"I think they showed more desperation all night than we did," said center Danny Briere, who, along with linemate James van Riemsdyk, was minus-3 in the game. "We sat back way too much, and they got rewarded for their desperation."

"Their skating was better than ours," Laviolette said. "They were quicker; they were more competitive on the puck than we were."

After storming the net in the first few minutes and taking an early 1-0 lead, the Flyers retreated. Their attacking identity was nowhere to be found in a second period in which they nearly set a dubious record: zero shots in a playoff period.

They managed their first shot, a point drive by Claude Giroux, with 1 minute, 27 seconds to go in the second. It drew a Bronx cheer from the orange-clad sellout crowd.

That same crowd, frustrated that the Devils were hungrier and the aggressor for most of the first two periods, booed the home team as it left the ice for the second intermission.

Oh, yeah: The Flyers led at the time, 1-0.

They led for one reason: Ilya Bryzgalov was playing like March Bryz, the guy who was the NHL's player of the month, the guy who had the second-longest scoreless streak (249:43) since expansion in 1967-68.

The Devils had a 25-11 shots advantage after two periods, and only several spectacular saves by Bryzgalov prevented the Flyers from being in a two- or three-goal hole.

"It's disappointing. Bryz is really the only one who showed up tonight," Briere said.

With Kovalchuk out of the lineup, defenseman Peter Harrold moved to wing, and rookie defenseman Adam Larsson - picked fourth in last year's draft, four spots ahead of the Flyers' Sean Couturier - made his playoff debut.

And, naturally, it was Larsson who scored from the right circle to knot the score at 1-all with 16:52 remaining in regulation. Goals by David Clarkson, Travis Zajac, and Bryce Salvador (empty-net) followed, and the Devils ended with a big edge in shots (35-20) and hits (32-24).

Earlier in the day, the Flyers dismissed talk that they would play differently because the Devils were missing Kovalchuk, a 37-goal scorer during the regular season.

"We just try to focus on our game and not think about who they have," defenseman Nick Grossmann said in the morning. "We're not going to change our game."

But they did. They sat back in a defensive shell after the first 10 minutes, were beaten to loose pucks, and were outhit.

Laviolette had said the Devils would be a spirited team, noting that Pittsburgh seemed to actually get a boost in Game 4 when it played without suspended players James Neal, Arron Asham, and Craig Adams.

The Penguins won that game, 10-3.

After the morning practice, Briere insisted the Flyers would not be complacent.

"They're still a dangerous team," he said. "Kovalchuk is not their only dangerous player. . . . In the playoffs, it doesn't really matter who is in the lineup," he added. "The games are so closely played, and the intensity" is amplified . . ." and you have different guys stepping up."

The guys who stepped up Tuesday were the Devils. The Flyers, particularly their forwards (speedy Eric Wellwood was one of the exceptions), played with all the energy of department-store mannequins, and their power play managed a total of one shot in 8:13.

As a result, the series is tied at one game apiece, and the Devils have stolen the home-ice advantage.