Kovalchuk on path to health

Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk (right) sat out Game 2 against the Flyers in their NHL Eastern...

Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk (right) sat out Game 2 against the Flyers in their NHL Eastern Conference semifinal due to a back injury. (RAY STUBBLEBINE/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:06 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA - Five things we have learned through the first two games of the Philadelphia Flyers-New Jersey Devils Eastern Conference semifinal, which is deadlocked at 1-1 heading into Game 3 Thursday night at the Prudential Center in Newark.

1. It appears that the Devils will get Ilya Kovalchuk back at some point in this series, even though they proved in Game 2 they can win without him.

With their star sniper out of the lineup with a back injury in Game 2, the Devils still managed to dominate every aspect of the game in their 4-1 victory Tuesday night.

Instead of using Kovalchuk’s absence as an excuse the Devils used it as a rallying point and were the better team in the offensive, defensive and neutral zones.

Now comes word that Kovalchuk is expected to rejoin the Devils, although his status for Game 3 is up in the air. Devils coach Peter DeBoer told reporters in Newark Wednesday that the smooth-skating winger received treatment earlier in the day and is showing improvement.

“I just met with him and talked to him,” DeBoer told the media. “He’s feeling much better and the rehab continues.

“We’ll wake up (Thursday) morning and see how he feels.”

Either way, sitting Kovalchuk for Game 3 might be the smart play. By doing that, Kovalchuk would have had an entire week to heal by the time Game 4 rolls around on Sunday.

2. Zack Parise is worth every bit of hype that has swirled around his pending unrestricted free agency this summer.

Kovalchuk or no Kovalchuk, Parise is the stud of this Devils team. Even with his diminutive size, he was winning most of the grunt battles along the boards in Game 3, often against Flyers defencemen who are far more beefy than he is.

Parise’s offensive skills are obvious, but it's his ability and willingness to grind that makes him a special player.

No wonder the Red Wings are actively scouting him while the Hurricanes are among many teams that will try to land him come July 1.

3. Don’t expect two consecutive flat games from the Flyers.

Philly coach Peter Laviolette’s players appeared to be skating in quicksand Tuesday. It's almost as if the Flyers took the Devils for granted.

After disposing of the Stanley Cup favourite Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, maybe there was just a bit of swagger in the Flyers' collective gaits.

At the same time, this is too talented of a team to not rebound from such a moribund effort. The key will be their forecheck, which is the Flyers' forte.

“They’re a good team and they’re going to come out better than they did (Tuesday),” Devils forward Travis Zajac told reporters. “We know that. So, we’re prepared for that and we’re going to have to be better.”

4. The nastiness level of this series could escalate in Game 3.

At the conclusion of Game 3, Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds punched the Devils’ Mark Fayne in the collarbone area. Simmonds received a roughing minor and 10-minute misconduct for his troubles. It may have been a foreshadow that things are going to become chippy as the series progresses.

“Pittsburgh tried to retaliate and stand up to them and that’s the exact game they want to play, so we’ve got to stick to our game and let them do that, take penalties, whatever,” Fayne told reporters in Newark. “We’ve just got to play the way we have been.”

5. Scott Hartnell will be more of a factor than he has been.

Hartnell is the Flyers' (bleep) disturber, a guy who can disrupt the opposition in so many ways. Yet, the Devils found a way to muzzle him and linemates Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr in Game 2, limiting the normally terrific trio to just four shots and zero points.

Hartnell vows the line will be better in Game 3. At least he promises to be.

“I don’t think it was as much what they did as what we didn’t do,” Hartnell told the media after Flyers practice Wednesday. “I wasn’t forechecking. I wasn’t hitting. It seemed like my legs weren’t moving. When you don’t have a guy going on a line, it’s tough to get the other two guys to get going as well.

“I have to be better. I have to get emotionally in the game. It felt like it was just too easy for them, and that’s part of my mold, to make it harder on them.”

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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