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Devils one loss from another early exit

by Mike G. Morreale
PHILADELPHIA -- The New Jersey Devils are on the verge of yet another early-round exit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

New Jersey, which captured the Atlantic Division title and finished second in the Eastern Conference with 48 wins and 103 points, has dug itself quite a hole in its best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the resilient Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers scored a 4-1 victory on Tuesday to take a commanding 3-1 lead and put the Devils on the brink of postseason elimination in the opening round for a third straight year. Philadelphia will look to close out the series in Game 5 on Thursday at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

"We worked all year to get home ice and we have the next one at home and that's all we can concern ourselves with," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "We have to find a way to win Game 5 and put some pressure back on them. We've got to find a way to put a good game together and get some confidence and momentum back in our dressing room."

That confidence and swagger that Langenbrunner would like to see was certainly evident in the opening 20 minutes on Tuesday when the Devils outshot the Flyers 12-7 on the way to earning a 1-0 lead. The visitors exhibited greater intensity and drive on the way to playing their best period of hockey in four periods.

Then, inexplicably, it all came to a crashing end as the Flyers would score four unanswered goals, leaving the Devils scratching their heads while anticipating a long ride back to Newark.

"We were putting pucks behind their defense and we were skating, but then we got away from that and started turning pucks over," Devils alternate captain Zach Parise said. "That didn't work out very well for us."

The Devils lost a five-game series to the New York Rangers in the 2008 conference quarterfinal round and a seven-game series to the Carolina Hurricanes as the third seed last year.

"We haven't played well and when you don't play well, you put yourself in these situations," Langenbrunner said. "It's not like we've played four great games and are down 3-1. We've played one good game and then some spotty periods and this is what happens.

"I thought we played a pretty intense game but we just didn't finish some chances that we got and we didn't create enough on five-on-five when we had those situations."

Ilya Kovalchuk opened the game like a player possessed, registering 5 shots, 2 hits and his second goal of the series at the 12:24 mark to give the Devils a 1-0 lead.

"The game is 60 minutes or sometimes longer, so we couldn't feel good about ourselves after first period," Kovalchuk said. "We got great group of guys here and we really believe in each other. We just have to take it one game at a time. I'm sure we'll be in good shape. Our fans have to believe in this. We really need them and it'll be huge in our building (on Thursday). We hope … we don't hope, I'm sure, we're going to come back here."

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur knows anything is possible.

"It has to come from within," Brodeur said. "Guys have to believe at first and then you got to go out there and make it happen. It's definitely one of the hardest things to do, which is why it doesn't happen too often (rallying from a 3-1 deficit). We're not happy with the situation we're in, but if we start thinking about all the little stats, we're going to drive ourselves crazy. You got to make a new day and go from there."

Even a miraculous Brodeur save early in the second period on Simon Gagne -- the most spectacular of the series -- couldn't spur the Devils to victory. Perhaps it's a sign the Flyers really do have the Devils' number his season -- Philadelphia has now won eight of 10 games against New Jersey.
"To be one game away from going home is definitely a hard situation because we had a lot of expectations," Brodeur said. "You go the whole year and feel that, through adversity, you learn certain things but you make the same mistake over and over. It's a tough situation. We just have to get back to work. We have a chance to play two games at home, if we do win the next one at home. We'll need to win a game in (Wachovia Center) to move on, so hopefully we'll get a chance to come back here and get another shot."

Lemaire doesn't believe the task of rallying from a 3-1 deficit is impossible. Still, the Devils are 1-7 in series they have trailed, 3-1.

"When your back is against the wall, there's no doubt that you need 20 guys ready to play and play at their maximum," Lemaire said. "I thought, as a team, we did that tonight for a good part of the game because we had them reeling. Everyone has to know what we're trying to do on the ice. It's a battle of having the 20 guys play their best; it's the only way you can come back. The first one (on Thursday) is the most important."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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