PHILADELPHIA -- It's no coincidence the top six New Jersey Devils forwards have struggled to find a groove against the big four defensemen of the Philadelphia Flyers.
And, really, it all boils down to the fact the top two defensive pair for the Flyers have been better.
The Devils will look to change all that Tuesday in Game 4 against the Flyers at the Wachovia Center (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN). The Flyers lead the series, 2-1.
"Having two solid pair of 'D' gives us the match against what I consider two first lines (in New Jersey)," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "We try and get those guys out there to do their best; to try and play against them and match up when we can. Timmo (Kimmo Timonen) quietly goes about his business in an effective manner, Chris Pronger should be a Norris Trophy candidate in my opinion, Matty (Carle) has done a terrific job in using his positioning and Braydon Coburn has been on the top of his game in the playoffs."
"They're playing good," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. "(Pronger and Timonen) are two really good hockey players who play a lot of minutes and they defend well. They're good on the offense, good overall and that's why they're among the top defensemen in the League."
While there is a considerable size discrepancy between Pronger (6-foot-6, 220) and Timonen (5-10, 194), Laviolette finds it hard to distinguish between their rock-solid play in the back end.
"I actually don't think they're that different of players," he said. "They both defend the same way. They're very smart and are always in position. They're sticks are in the right position and they make the correct reads. They're similar a bit in the way they play the game."
Through three playoff games against the Devils, the defensive pairs of Pronger and Carle and Timonen and Coburn have been earning their keep while averaging 30-or-more shifts a game. All four players rank among the top five on the team in ice time, with Pronger (29:30), Timonen (25:35) and Carle (25:11) among the top three and Coburn (21:06) coming in fifth.
Pronger and Timonen rank first and second on the team in average ice time while shorthanded and on the power-play. There really isn't any situation Laviolette won't think twice about putting them out against either of the top two lines for the Devils, which consists of some combination featuring Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, Jamie Langenbrunner and Dainius Zubrus.
The acquisition of Pronger has also relieved some of the heavy defensive burden on Timonen.
"Obviously we know Chris is a great player and probably a future Hall of Famer, so, sure, it's a different situation," Timonen said. "But I just go out there and do my job. I really don't care who plays what. I work on my thing and make sure I do my job as good as I can."
Timonen considers the challenge of stopping Kovalchuk similar to that of denying Washington's Alex Ovechkin. When the Flyers eliminated the Capitals in seven games during the 2008 Conference quarterfinal round, "Ovi" was held to 4 goals at a time when Timonen was called upon time and time again. Kovalchuk has 1 goal this series and was even held to zero shots in the Flyers' Game 3 overtime victory.
"It's the same kind of player (Ovechkin and Kovalchuk)," Timonen said. "They're both great players. They can shoot the puck and make plays and if you give them space and time, they're going to make plays so the key is to take that away."
Still, it's interesting to note that Timonen still averages more ice time now than he did during the '08 Playoffs when he didn't have Pronger as a teammate, logging 24:40 in 13 games.
The play of the Flyers' defense seems to have the Devils second-guessing themselves on offense, which is a direct result of what Timonen was referring to when he noted his keys of taking away time and space.
"They do a good job of taking away our time and space with the puck and I just think we all need to support and use our linemates more -- that'll make a big difference," Parise said.
The Flyers have allowed the Devils 16 power-play opportunities in the series and the Devils have only connected three times, including a 2-for-8 showing in Game 3.
"I think everybody is trying to make things happen in different ways and to say we're doing it individually would ... I don't think (playing as individuals) is something we set out to do," Langenbrunner said. "We want to make something good happen and do something to help the team. Sometimes less is more."
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