NEW YORK - If there was one snapshot in time that captures the ferocity of the New Jersey Devils-Philadelphia Flyers rivalry, it would be of Eric Lindros lying on the ice in a heap.
It was Game 7 of the 2000 eastern conference final and Lindros, skating across the blue line with his head down, had just been crushed by Devils captain Scott Stevens, leaving the normally raucous building now known as the Wells Fargo Center as quiet as you’ll ever hear it ... Or not hear it, as the case may be.
You can bet that same arena will be much louder come Sunday afternoon when the despised Devils make the short one-hour drive down I-95 to take on the Flyers in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final series in south Philly.
While the Devils went on to win the Stanley Cup over the Dallas Stars after the Stevens hit on Lindros, the Flyers have won the subsequent two playoff matchups against New Jersey. They also beat Hall of Fame shoo-in Martin Brodeur three times in his four starts this season, yet another step toward wiping out the memory from the Flyers loyal fan base of Stevens laying out Lindros 12 years ago.
But it won’t be easy.
Sure, the Flyers looked impressive in disposing of Sidney Crosby’s talented Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the first round. At the same time, as wobbly as he has looked in spurts in recent years, surely Brodeur could not play any worse than the Pens Marc-Andre Fleury, who resembled a beer league goalie at certain points versus the Flyers.
Then there’s the fact that the Devils and Flyers do not like each other.
Never have. Never will.
“It’s easy to hate Pittsburgh, but the Devils are right there ,right on our list, too,” Flyers forward Scott Hartnell told reporters in Phiilly.
Even a rookie like Matt Read is aware of the history of hate these two frachises have harboured for each other over the years.
“I can see the blood boiling after the first game if things are getting a little rough, same as Pittsburgh,” he said. “It’s going to be a hard-fought battle. Every game and every inch you’re going to have to fight for position and the puck.
“I think it’s going to be a great series, and I can’t wait for it to start.”
Brodeur will turn 40 on May 6, the date of Game 4 of this series.
“Probably if not the best goalie that’s ever played, in my mind, him and Patrick Roy are right up there,” Danny Briere said. “Everything he’s done, all the records he’s broken, it’s pretty impressive.
“At the same time, we’re there to move on. We can’t stop with them.”
Devils coach Peter DeBoer split up snipers Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk during practice on Saturday, causing some observers to predict New Jersey was trying to look for more balance up front. But DeBoer warned the media afterward not to read to much into the reshuffled line combinations he used during the workout.
“I think any kind of change is refreshing and gives players around them a different jump and a different look,” DeBoer said.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to make a change. We’ve won a lot of games here over the last month with the lines we’ve had, so I haven’t made any decisions there.
“Any time you make change, you usually get a positive reaction one way or the other.”
Meanwhile, at Flyers practice, defenceman Nicklas Grossman was paired with his regular blue line partner, Braydon Coburn. Grossman, who has been out with a concussion, is expected to play against the Devils on Sunday although, as of Saturday afternoon, he had yet to receive medical clearance.
Whatever the case, you can expect the bitter feelings between these two teams to boil the moment the puck is dropped.
Why would it be any different this time around?