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Exorcising the Devils

by Kevin Kurz / Philadelphia Flyers
(Voorhees, NJ) – It is a question that has been repeated over and over again in the Flyers’ recent history. No matter how well they may be playing, and Philadelphia seems to be on top of its game at the moment, it is always an issue at the forefront when the team travels north to play the Devils.

Why can’t the Flyers win in New Jersey?

The teams meet for the seventh time this season, and fourth and final time in New Jersey, on Friday night (7:00 p.m., CW-57).

“It seems like the last time we played the Devils, hearing their comments, they seem to really get up for us,” said John Stevens after practice on Thursday. “They play their best game against us. I know [Martin] Brodeur does.”

Philadelphia has lost its last 11 games in the so-called “swamp,” including the first three games this season at the brand new Prudential Center. The Flyers, however, have won their last four games overall, while New Jersey is winless in its last five (0-4-1) after losing 3-2 to the New York Rangers on Thursday night.

With the clash for playoff position in full swing, there would be no better time than the present to end the run of futility against a rival that the Flyers could very well see again in the postseason. Philadelphia is just three points behind the Devils and Rangers for sixth place in the Conference with five games remaining.

“We’re in the midst of a huge battle,” said Martin Biron, who more than likely will get the call in net. “Everyone was talking last week about how we were battling with Boston, Buffalo and Washington, and I think now this team has got to look and say we’re battling with the Rangers, the Devils and the Senators. We need three points from those guys, and three points, as we know, can be made up like this and lost like that. That’s what this locker room, I think, is definitely looking at right now.”

Although they have a chance to improve on finishing as the seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, the players are not yet looking towards the playoffs, which begin in less than two weeks. After all, they have yet to mathematically clinch a berth.

“To me, [this is] about as close as playoffs can be,” said Biron. “That’s why you don’t look ahead to the playoffs, because you’re playing in the playoffs right now.”

Veteran Kimmo Timonen thinks that just making the playoffs isn’t the goal – it’s to be playing well when you get there.

“Obviously it’s hard not to look [the current standings], but to me the most important thing right now is our team game and how we’re going to play,” said the All-Star defenseman. “If you make the playoffs and your team game is not in order, you’re not going to win any games. The key is now to keep the team game in order and make sure we work hard and play the system.”

Despite a rough stretch for the Devils, they are a team that still does not give their opponents many prime scoring chances, and are anchored by arguably the best goalie in the game in Brodeur. New Jersey’s problem of late has been putting pucks in the net, with just five goals in the last five games.

Danny Briere, who has led the Flyers offensively during their streak with seven points in the last four games, thinks that the team should concentrate on playing the same kind of game it did against the Rangers, when Philadelphia patiently waited for its chances while trailing for most the contest. The Flyers won that one in overtime, 2-1.

“Especially in that game, we didn’t take unnecessary chances to put us in trouble, and that’s what I liked about that last game,” said Briere. “We have to have the same mindset going to Jersey facing the Devils; it’s a very similar team.

“You can still forecheck and you can still play hard and try to make some plays, but you can’t gamble when the chances aren’t in your favor. That’s what we did against the Rangers. We can’t get frustrated with not getting many chances.”

As for the streak – that’s nothing to be concerned about.

“It’s a whole new ballgame [Friday],” said Jeff Carter. “I don’t care what happened at the start of the year. I know we’re playing good hockey right now.”
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