NEWARK, N.J. -- The first thing that went through the mind of Alexei Ponikarovsky when he learned of his trade to the New Jersey Devils in January was the storied history of the franchise.
"I knew it was team with a big history that knew how to win and had been there many times," Ponikarovsky said. "When I came in, I knew what I had to do and what was expected of me. I just had to work hard and put my pride and soul into it."
The 32-year-old forward did just that on Thursday when he connected for the game-winner with 2:39 remaining in the first overtime Thursday night to give New Jersey a 4-3 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal.
"I didn't have time to celebrate," Ponikarovsky said. "Everybody jumped on me. It felt good in the pile."
The victory gives the Devils a 2-1 lead going into Game 4 in Newark on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
Ponikarovsky took a pass from Ilya Kovalchuk at the Flyers' blue line after a bad change by Philadelphia and skated in on goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
"We got caught in the zone running around," Flyers forward Danny Briere said. "They had the chance to make a change while we were scrambling. When it came out of the zone, I figured a couple guys would try to change to give us some fresh guys and they caught us on a change."
Ponikarovsky's quick snap shot from the right circle was stopped by Bryzgalov but rebounded right back to him and he swatted home a backhander for the win. The Devils, who entered the series having scored just one goal on Bryzgalov in three regular-season meetings in 2011-12 now have 11 in three playoff games.
"In playoffs, it's a little different and there's more pressure, so he's a great goalie and we know he plays that butterfly style and goes down so we want to create little traffic in front of him and put the pucks in because he seems like he doesn't handle the puck … we want to take advantage for sure," Kovalchuk said.
FLYERS VS. DEVILS
The Travis touch
By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer Limited in the regular season by an Achilles injury, Travis Zajac has become the Devils' most reliable offensive producer in the Stanley Cup playoffs. READ MORE ›
Kovalchuk, who missed Game 2 with a lower-body injury and was a game-time decision on Thursday, was outstanding -- he scored once and set up two more goals.
The Devils were forced to kill off two Philadelphia power plays in the overtime, allowing just one shot during the four minutes. The Flyers were finished 1-for-5 on the power play and are now 2-for-16 in the series after going 12-for-23 in the opening round against Pittsburgh.
"They're coming after us [on the penalty kill]," Briere said. "We're trying to do everything by ourselves, we're not winning any battles by ourselves. We know they're coming hard. But we're not playing for each other. Either we're not winning our battles, or we're not getting in there to help someone out. They're shorthanded and they're outnumbering us to the puck left and right, and I include myself … I'm in the group. We all have to be better on the power play."
Devils coach Pete DeBoer was proud of his team's effort on the penalty kill.
"We persevered and I though we grabbed momentum with our PK," DeBoer said. "When [the penalty kill] is good, that's what we've done."
"We had a great penalty kill all year and we're confident going into it," he said. "We're confident we're going to kill it off."
The Flyers overcame deficits of 2-1 and 3-2 to force the overtime.
Just 17 seconds after Kovalchuk hit the post behind Bryzgalov with a 30-foot slap shot that would have given the Devils a 4-2 lead, the Flyers raced back the other way and tied the game 3-3 on Briere's rebound goal 11:04 into the third period. James Van Riemsdyk took the initial shot on Brodeur from the left circle. An alert Briere was the trailer on the play and made no mistake, knocking home his 50th career playoff goal.
Flyers' forward Jakub Voracek said the team may be down but they're not out.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy because the Devils have a very good team, they're very strong, very big," Voracek said. "We're down. We have a big game on Sunday and we have to make sure we win that one because it's the biggest game of the series."
Parise had given the Devils a 3-2 lead at 7:29. After beating defenseman Matt Carle out of the right-wing corner, he took a feed from Patrik Elias before driving to the right post and jamming a shot between Bryzgalov's pads. Elias stole the puck behind the net before pushing the puck to Parise, who darted to the front of the net before stuffing home his fourth of the playoffs.
"Whether we're up 2-1 [in the series] or down 2-1, there's a lot of hockey to be played," Parise said. "They're a great hockey team."
The Flyers pulled into a 2-2 tie 4:44 into the second period when Carle's blast from the left circle beat Brodeur cleanly. Voracek made the play happen when he curled around the Devils net before backhanding a pass to Carle for the one-timer.
Philadelphia thought it had taken the lead at 17:52 when van Riemsdyk followed through and put home a rebound, but the play was blown dead on goalie interference by Brayden Schenn on Brodeur. Replays showed that Schenn dragged Brodeur's stick and pad while skating through the crease.
The Flyers had a strong second period, outshooting the Devils 9-4 and taking any momentum the home team might have grabbed while dominating the opening 20 minutes and skating off with a 2-1 lead.
The Devils spotted the Flyers the first goal when Schenn scored during a power play 6:08 into the game before picking up where they left off in Game 2 -- when the completely stymied the Flyers offense.
Elias scored his first goal in seven games when he took a pass from Marek Zidlicky in the right circle and lined a shot past Bryzgalov for a power-play goal at 12:33. Just 20 seconds later, Kovalchuk sent the hometown faithful into a tizzy when he controlled a pass from Ponikarovsky, skated uncontested down the slot and unleashed a wrist shot from the hash that beat a helpless Bryzgalov high on the short side for a 2-1 edge.
The two-goal explosion marked the fastest pair by the Devils in their postseason history, breaking the former mark of 26 seconds set by Petr Sykora and Bobby Holik on May 14, 2000, against the Flyers in Philadelphia.
Kovalchuk said he really enjoyed the atmosphere on Thursday.
"It was unbelievable," he said "Right in the warmup, you could feel the energy and I like those white towels in their hands and everyone cheering. I didn't see a lot of people leave in the third period even though it was late already … kids were still in the stands. It was great to get a win. Our fans deserve that kind of game."
Following Schenn's goal, off a shot from the left circle that beat Brodeur on the short side, the Devils outshot the Flyers 10-3. New Jersey held a 14-7 advantage in the opening 20 minutes.
The Flyers lost rookie Sean Couturier after he sustained a lower-body injury in the first period and didn't return. Couturier, who has three goals and four points in the playoffs, played just five shifts totaling 3:59. His last shift ended with 4:34 remaining in the first after getting tangled in the corner with Devils forward David Clarkson.
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