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Gift goal won't soon be forgotten

Playing without suspended star Claude Giroux, the Flyers were trying to stave off elimination against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.

Playing without suspended star Claude Giroux, the Flyers were trying to stave off elimination against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.

"G's been our best player all year. We owe him one," winger Zac Rinaldo said before the game, before he sparked the Flyers with five first-period hits. "This one is for him."

Well, they'll have to pay the debt another time.

The New Jersey Devils eliminated the Flyers, 3-1, and won the Eastern Conference semifinal series, four games to one. A Flyers season that had seemed so promising after they jolted the Stanley Cup favorite Pittsburgh Penguins came to a crashing end.

The Flyers lost the last four games to the hungrier Devils; they had not lost four straight all season.

New Jersey overcame a 1-0 deficit - teams were 1-10 when scoring first in the Flyers' playoff games this spring - with a pair of odd goals in the opening period.

Bryce Salvador scored the first one, firing a shot that caromed off the stick of the Flyers' Wayne Simmonds and over the right shoulder of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

The second Devils goal will live in Flyers infamy.

It's right up there with a goal from beyond center ice by Minnesota's Barry Gibbs that gave the North Stars a 1-0 season-ending win and cost the Flyers a 1970 playoff berth. Goalie Bernie Parent lost the puck in the sun that was coming through the Spectrum windows, and he was playing for Toronto the next season.

There was a gut-wrenching tally by Buffalo's Gerry Meehan with four seconds left in the final game of the 1971-72 regular season, knocking the Flyers out of the playoffs. Meehan's 80-footer somehow eluded goalie Doug Favell.

The Goal Heard 'Round South Philly on Tuesday was right up there with the Patrick Kane score than got past the Flyers' Michael Leighton and gave Chicago an overtime win and the Stanley Cup in Game 6 of the 2010 Finals.

Tuesday's goal, scored by New Jersey's David Clarkson, was a gift. It was hand-delivered by Bryzgalov, the colorful 31-year-old goalie who played well in the series but will be remembered for his pee-wee hockey mistake that gave the Devils what proved to be the game-winner.

After defenseman Kimmo Timonen made an ill-advised pass to Bryzgalov, the goalie had the puck on his stick and tried to clear it. Instead, it deflected off the shaft of an on-charging Clarkson and went into the net.

"We expect to finish the season different," Bryzgalov said. "The New Jersey Devils were outstanding, and we did not play our game."

Bryzgalov said he saw Clarkson coming and was trying to feed Timonen in the corner, "but I hit him on his stick and it went into the net. It could have gone anywhere - in the corner, higher or lower - but it goes straight between the legs.

"The first goal, too, was a deflection, and the third one, too. It was just unlucky."

"I was just trying to get on him and force him to make a play, and he put it right off my stick," Clarkson said. "I'll take it any way I can."

That gave New Jersey a 2-1 lead with 7 minutes, 15 seconds left in the opening period, and the Flyers, Cup-less since 1975, never recovered.