WASHINGTON - As Martin Brodeur celebrates a milestone birthday on Sunday, he has one question for anyone who might be able to answer it.
“Do they allow 40-year-olds on the ice?” joked the future Hall of Famer as he addressed reporters in New Jersey on Saturday.
They certainly do. In fact, Brodeur might be able to play many more years a la Johnny Bower if teams make his on-ice life as easy as the Philadelphia Flyers have done in their best-of-seven eastern conference semifinal.
If the Flyers continue to play without the edge and spark they exhibited in their first-round upset of the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins, it will be the perfect gift for Brodeur and his New Jersey Devils, who lead the series 2-1 heading into Game 4 on Sunday.
For whatever reason, the Flyers have looked nothing like the confident, high-energy squad that sent Sidney Crosby home for the offseason just two weeks ago.
In dropping two consecutive decisions to the Devils, the Flyers have been outscored, outhustled, outhit and outworked. Having smaller Devils like Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk strip the puck away from the larger Flyer defencemen like Braydon Coburn on the forecheck has become a common sight in this series, a trend the Flyers must nip in the bud.
“If we thought they were just going to let us win, then we had the wrong mindset and we deserve to lose, there’s no doubt about that,” Flyers forward Danny Briere told media members after the team’s practice in Vorhees, N.J. on Saturday.
“Everybody on an individual basis has to find another gear. Find a way to believe we can beat them. Find a way to go out there with the mindset that they are going to win every battle and find a mindset,” he added. “We’re not going to win every single battle but we can’t lose the majority of (them) like we have the last two games.”
Asked if the Flyers had emptied their emotional tanks against the Pens, Briere refused to use that as an excuse.
“As a team, we just haven’t used or played with enough emotion and passion as we have in the first round against Pittsburgh,” he said. “That’s what we have to find.
“I don’t know if we left a lot in the other series or what. (But) that’s certainly something we need to find again. Every single playoff game should be played with the most passion and most emotion. Obviously it wasn’t there the last couple of games.”
It has become apparent that the Flyers underestimated this Devils team, which is befuddling when you considered New Jersey finished just one point behind Philadelphia (103-102) during the regular season.
But when you hear comments such as those offered by the Flyers’ Jaromir Jagr on Saturday that the Devils have exhibited both more hustle and muscle than Philly, you start to wonder about the sagging mindset his team seems to have right now. Maybe Parise and Patrik Elias were right when they noted on Friday that the Devils might be planting some “doubts” within the Flyers.
“They’re stronger than I thought, that is for sure,” Jagr said. “I thought we’d handle the boards a little better than we have so far. You never know. You just have to keep fighting.
“In my experience, I have been on teams that totally dominated the first, three or four games and this series it has changed. I thought they have been a little bit stronger and faster than us.”
In order to shake things up a bit, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette has shuffled his lines around.
Briere was reunited at practice on Saturday with the slumping Scott Hartnell, who had been playing with Claude Giroux. Giroux was with James van Riemsdyk and Wayne Simmonds.
Laviolette is hoping that mixing things up will give his team some much-needed spark. If it doesn’t, Martin Brodeur likely will celebrate his 40th birthday on Sunday with a win.