Disappointment is getting to be a staple of springtime in New Jersey.
For the third year in a row, the Devils are heading home after a first-round loss in which they were the higher seed. Early vacation No. 3 was guaranteed on Thursday night when the Philadelphia Flyers wrapped up their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series in five games with a 3-0 victory at the Prudential Center.
The Devils were outplayed throughout the series in every department. Journeyman goaltender Brian Boucher was better than future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, the Flyers competed harder 5-on-5 and had a huge edge on special teams. They won Thursday's game even without two of their top offensive players -- Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, both of whom will have foot surgery.
"We didn't play playoff hockey," a disappointed coach Jacques Lemaire said after the Atlantic Division regular-season champions were bounced by the seventh-seeded Flyers. "Philadelphia did a lot better job in that department.
"There are not 10 ways to play in the playoffs. There is one way. That's the way you have to play, and we didn't play that way."
Brodeur wasn't horrible, but he allowed 15 goals on 126 shots. That was nearly twice as many as Boucher, who surrendered only eight on the same number.
"I just don't believe it. It's kind of tough to digest," Brodeur said of the Devils' latest first-round upset loss, which followed a seven-game loss to Carolina last year and a five-gamer to the New York Rangers in 2008. "We have a heck of a team here, but for whatever reason, we didn’t get to the level we need to play at in the playoffs. It’s disappointing.
"There were a lot of good things that happened this season, and we can't forget that. But we're paid to play in the playoffs and have success. That's what people remember. This is three years in a row that we haven't accomplished nothing. We thought it was really disappointing losing Game 7 (last year). Losing Game 5 is hard."
Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said losing the series after earning the second seed was a major disappointment.
"We had a lot of good pieces," he said, "but for whatever reason we just didn't put it together the way we needed to. We showed spurts where we did some good things, but we didn't win the games in the areas we needed to."
The biggest area was special teams.
The Flyers gave the Devils 32 power plays -- more than six a game -- during the series, but New Jersey was able to score just four times. Philadelphia went 8-for-29, including two in the clinching game.
Brodeur said special teams were the biggest difference.
"It became a special-teams type of series," Brodeur said. "Their power play worked really well and ours didn't. Our PK didn't work as well, and theirs worked well. Just look at the special teams and you'll see why we're not playing any more."
Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils' major midseason acquisition, was among the most disappointed after coming up a loser in only the second playoff series in his NHL career.
"It's embarrassing," he said. "We had a great team, but they outplayed us totally. We did not deserve to win. I don’t think we were outhustled, but they scored at the right time, and our power play didn't get the job done."
Any questions about the Devils' future begin with Kovalchuk, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Atlanta traded him to New Jersey after he turned down a long-term, big-money deal for more money than the Devils are expected to be willing to pay.
"I love it here," he said when asked if he wanted to come back. "It's a great organization. I appreciate that (GM) Lou (Lamoriello) gave me a chance to play here. It was a great experience. I played with some great players. I loved it.
"We all know it's a business. I'm open for everything."