PHILADELPHIA -- Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. The New Jersey Devils were both in their 3-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
A pair of fortuitous bounces 3:18 apart in the first period gave the Devils all the offense they needed, and a high-pressure attack that baffled Philadelphia for most of the series propelled New Jersey to a series-clinching victory and a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2003, when they won the franchise's third Stanley Cup.
It's also the third time the Devils have defeated the Flyers in the playoffs; the others came in 1995 and 2000 -- and each time, the Devils went on to win the Stanley Cup. For now, they'll await the winner of the other Eastern semifinal series between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. The Rangers lead the series 3-2 with Game 6 set for Wednesday in Washington.
Bryce Salvador and David Clarkson scored in the first period for New Jersey and Ilya Kovalchuk added an insurance goal early in the third as the Devils won the final four games of the series after losing Game 1 in overtime.
Philadelphia, playing without suspended leading scorer Claude Giroux, got only a first-period goal by Maxime Talbot. Martin Brodeur finished with 27 saves.
"We played really hard this series," Brodeur said. "We survived a few scares in the first series. So it's nice that we finished this off today and looking forward to a little break here and see what we're going to face in the conference finals."
It's the second straight year the Flyers have been eliminated in the conference semifinals; they were swept last year by the Boston Bruins.
Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov also made 27 saves, but his giveaway resulted in New Jersey's series-clinching goal.
At 12:45 of the first period, defenseman Kimmo Timonen played the puck back to Bryzgalov. The goalie tried shifting the puck back to Timonen, but instead shot it right into Clarkson. The puck caromed off the shaft of Clarkson's stick and into the net, giving New Jersey a lead it would not relinquish.
"I just skated to the net, and it's just one of those lucky bounces," Clarkson said. "I don’t know how it happens, but you just try to force the goalie, bang my stick a little bit. I didn't even know it went in until some of the crowd started booing. It was a pretty good feeling when it went in."
"I saw him coming and I wanted to put the puck in the corner for Kimmo to start back up," Bryzgalov said. "It's a bad bounce unfortunately because it could have gone anywhere -- in the corner, higher, lower, but it goes straight between the legs."
The game-tying goal also came off a bad bounce for Philadelphia. Salvador teed up a shot from the left point, but the puck deflected off Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds out high, rising over Bryzgalov's right shoulder the goalie dropped to his knees expecting a low shot.
"It was just tough luck," Jaromir Jagr said. "The first goal was tipped in by our guy, think it hit Simmer [Simmonds] and changed direction. The second goal was a tough break. He didn't even know he scored."
Talbot gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead 7:18 into the game when he shoveled a loose puck in the crease under Brodeur for his fourth of the postseason. However, scoring first has not worked well for the Flyers -- the team that scored first in their 11 playoff games went 1-10, with the Flyers themselves losing seven of eight. Philadelphia scored first in all four losses to New Jersey.
"We have a lot of leaders in this group," Clarkson said. "We never gave up and that's the type of style we have tried to play all season. It was never give up and keep working hard. It is a tribute to everyone in here and our coaching staff and the way they have coached us all season. It is definitely a big, big deal, and we have to get ready for next round."
Philadelphia had chances to at least tie the game in the final 40 minutes, but an offense that was among the best in the NHL during the regular season and dominant in the first round against Pittsburgh couldn't come through. The Flyers managed just 28 shots, but 11 came in the first period.
They failed to get a shot on goal on a power play early in the second period, and at the 6:17 mark, Briere had an open net after Brodeur slipped playing the puck behind the net. However, he slid the puck into the goal post and New Jersey was able to clear it away.
The Flyers finished the series 3-for-19 with the man advantage after scoring 12 times in 23 chances while beating Pittsburgh in the first round.
The third period saw the Flyers continue to push, but the problems that plagued them for most of the series -- an inability to get the puck of the defensive zone, poor plays under pressure from the New Jersey forecheck -- were enough to end the Flyers' season.
"They were very strong on the boards," Jagr said. "I don't think they lost any battles on the boards."
Jagr said had the absence of Giroux -- who was suspended for his hit to the head of New Jersey's Dainius Zubrus late in the second period of Game 4 on Sunday -- made a difference.
"He's our best player," Jagr said. "He was all year long. Even in the playoffs he was totally dominating the game. It was a big loss. You don't know what would have happened if he played, but we would have had a way better chance to win."
Kovalchuk iced the game with a power-play goal five minutes into the third period. James van Riemsdyk was sent to the penalty box for holding, and on the ensuing faceoff Dainius Zubrus beat Talbot on the draw. Adam Henrique sent the puck back to Kovalchuk, who ripped a shot from above the circles that got past a screened Bryzgalov.
It was just the second goal of the series for Kovalchuk and his fifth of the postseason, but regardless of his statistics, he said he's just happy to be going to his first conference finals.
"For the first time in nine years, I'm not going to the World Championship, so it's fun," he said.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK