Devils move on to conference final

Ilya Kovalchuk, of the New Jersey Devils, celebrates his power play goal against the Philadelphia...

Ilya Kovalchuk, of the New Jersey Devils, celebrates his power play goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5. (GETTY)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 12:28 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA - The series was vintage Philadelphia Flyers, and the New Jersey Devils weren't going to have any part of it.

The slashing.

The yapping.

The borderline dirty hits, one of them that led to the Flyers' best player being suspended for what ultimately turned out to be the deciding game.

As a result, the composed and surprisingly good Devils team finished off the Flyers here Tuesday night with a 3-1 victory and 4-1 second-round series blowout.

From the moment Game 5 started, the Devils were determined not to get rattled by the Flyers the way the Pittsburgh Penguins did in a wild first-round series that saw pages pulled from the age-old Broad Street Bully playbook.

"You could talk about scoring goals, forechecking them and playing well and all that," 40-year-old Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said about what is looking like another meaningful run at a Stanley Cup for the veteran.

"But what was tough on them was us not retaliating to any of the stuff that they were doing, all the stuff they were saying every single game. Guys just turned away and didn't respond to anybody.

"We just took it like men and moved on and won the hockey game."

With the loss, the Flyers join the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators on the heap of second-round beaten favourites.

As the No. 6 seed, the Devils could have home-ice advantage for the conference final if the Washington Capitals are somehow able to bounce back and defeat the New York Rangers in that Eastern Conference semifinal.

It was an invigorating turnaround for the Devils, who missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 seasons a year go. But as a veteran group sprinkled with just enough star power and a new coach in Peter DeBoer, they suddenly appear to be a serious threat to win the Cup.

One of those veterans, Ilya Kovalchuk, scored the huge insurance goal in the third period and is leading his team in scoring going into the third round.

The balanced and deep Devils roster is getting help up and down the lineup and got game- and series-winning goal from plugger David Clarkson.

"We've gotten winning goals from seven or eight different people throughout the playoffs," DeBoer said. "Our team game is what is making us successful, not any individuals."

The Flyers were never truly engaged against the Devils after a relatively easy upset win over the Penguins. They had no answer for the relentless Devils' puck possession and were unable to mount any serious pressure on Brodeur.

When asked if he was surprised at the lack of banging from Flyers forwards in his crease, the future Hall of Famer essentially summed up the series.

"They didn't spend enough time in our zone for them to do that," Brodeur said. "When they did get anything, they were dumping the puck and they didn't sustain many 30 second shifts like we did to them."

Philadelphia's Max Talbot opened the scoring Tuesday 7:18 into the game, ever so briefly leading to hope of a series comeback. But when New Jersey's Bryce Salvador tied it 2:09 later and Clarkson's game-winner arrived three minutes after that, the series was as good as done.

A word about the winner, as it so typified the Flyers' malaise for the past couple decades. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, he of the hefty nine-year contract, tried to make a pass from his crease that bounced off of Clarkson's stick and in.

"That goal stung," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "It hurt."

It hurt as it always does for various incarnations of Flyers teams that seem capable of making a run only to be hurt by the last line of defence. Bryzgalov may have been the boob, but he wasn't the only thing gone bad for the Flyers.

They were without leading scorer Claude Giroux, who was suspended for his Game 4 head shot on Dainius Zubrus, but his offence had gone cold anyway. Same with Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell and a clearly weary Jaromir Jagr.

And when the pond hockey that appeared against the Penguins didn't show up, the Flyers were in deep trouble.

"Our guys were ready to play," Laviolette said. "But it was a different series, a different style."

When the post-season began four weeks ago, it was difficult to rouse much enthusiasm for the Devils.

In the East alone, the Rangers, Penguins and Bruins all smelled like Cup contenders.

What we ignored, however, was a team that had won its final six regular-season games and was completely sold on DeBoer's forward-thinking approach that seemed so foreign to the franchise's past championship teams.

"Last year, we missed the playoffs for the first time in (15 years)," Brodeur said. "To be able to bounce back, make the playoffs and get into the third round so far, it's rewarding for everybody in here."

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport


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