As the speculation mounted during the first round that New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk was playing hurt, there also was the idea that his teammate, forward David Clarkson, was performing through the pain of an unspecified injury.
Kovalchuk kept saying that he was “fine” or “good,” but the truth caught up to him on Tuesday, and he missed Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal against the Philadelphia Flyers with a lower-back injury.
Clarkson? He had a career-high 30 goals during the regular season and was his usual ornery self, sticking his nose into areas where others dared not go.
Clarkson hadn’t been overly visible in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs as he didn’t score in the seven-game quarterfinal against the Florida Panthers and was not too physically engaging.
If Clarkson was hurt, however, he crushed doubters in the third period on Tuesday night, escaping Flyers defenceman Nicklas Grossman to go hard to the net and stuff a rebound past Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. It was fitting that Clarkson wound up hanging off the crossbar and knocking the net off the moorings as the puck went in.
Clarkson’s goal was the winner in a 4-1 victory as the Devils tied the series 1-1.
The Devils’ confidence swelled with the knowledge they can win without Kovalchuk. But it might be as comforting to know that Clarkson, who replaced Kovalchuk on the top line, demonstrated he can be an integral factor in the outcome.
Hard to believe that Martin Brodeur turns 40 on Sunday. His biggest hope during the second period was to stay awake, as he faced just two shots, none until 87 seconds were left. But there was Brodeur in the third, making a couple of big saves, including one at the side of the net on Wayne Simmonds. Who wouldn’t take Brodeur over Bryzgalov if it came down to one game? ... Devils rookie defenceman Adam Larsson was saying during the first round against the Florida Panthers that he was not learning much because he was not playing. Well, he certainly didn’t forget how to jump up. Dainius Zubrus made an excellent backhand pass to Larsson for the tying goal in the third period, but the play wouldn’t have happened had Larsson not known it was okay to spring himself. Larsson scored just two goals in the regular season, and none since Nov. 26. It was the first goal by a Devils defenceman in the 2012 playoffs ... Thanks to the trickle-down effect with Kovalchuk out, Larsson made his playoff debut as defenceman Peter Harrold was moved to play the wing on the fourth line. Larsson’s introduction to the quick pace of the post-season came fast, as the puck bounced over his stick at the Flyers blue line and Philly had a two-on-one early in the first period. Since March 25, Larsson had played just once -- the regular-season finale on April 7 versus Ottawa ... Devils captain Zach Parise is getting better as the playoffs progress, which is saying something because he has been solid since Game 1 against Florida. You can’t contain effort, and the Flyers are having trouble with Parise ... Not long before Matt Read scored for the Flyers, New Jersey’s Alexei Ponikarovsky didn’t shoot on a two-on-one break and the play was broken up by Flyers defenceman Kimmo Timonen. The Devils coaching staff won’t have to show Ponikarovsky video for the ex-Maple Leaf to know he waited too long to make a decision. Adam Henrique was headed straight toward the net for a rebound that never came.
FROM THE HASH MARKS
The Devils couldn’t score on a couple of early power plays and one reason why, other than Bryzgalov, was the hustle of forward Eric Wellwood. Not only did Wellwood help keep the Devils stuck deep in their own end, he created scoring chances with teammates in the penalty box ... One has to wonder when Brodeur watches the non-descript defence in front of him what goes through his mind. It’s Bryce Salvador, Mark Fayne and Marek Zidlicky, not Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko. The Flyers, when the mood has struck, have not had a hard time going to the net ... For those who have not been keeping count, that’s twice Nashville Predators forward Alexander Radulov has flipped the organization the bird. Nearly four years ago, Radulov ignored the fact he was under contract and bolted for the Kontinental Hockey League before returning to the Predators (much to the chagrin of just about every other NHL club) this past March. Now, in the playoffs, he figured, apparently, that missing curfew wasn’t such a bad thing. Naturally, the team thought it was moronic and suspended Radulov and teammate Andrei Kostitsyn for Game 3 against the Phoenix Coyotes on tonight. What outside observers think really isn’t the point. It’s how the two will be viewed in the dressing room that matters most. You’d have to think that the Predators inwardly aren’t exactly bursting with respect for their teammates. It’s such an unnecessary distraction at the most important time of year.