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Devils open home-and-home with win over Flyers

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils are slowly regaining the winning formula that was prevalent in the early stages of the 2012-13 season.

The only difference now is that goalie Johan Hedberg is beginning to establish himself between the pipes in the absence of injured Martin Brodeur.

Adam Henrique had his first two-goal game of the season, and Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk and Andrei Loktionov each scored once as the Devils earned a 5-2 victory over the struggling Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday before 17,625 fans at Prudential Center.

"I think things are getting better," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "During the [six-game] losing streak, I thought we played well enough to win some of those games but for different reasons they didn't go our way. But we felt that if we just stuck with it, tried to keep a positive outlook, that the situation would turn, and it has."

The victory for Hedberg, his third in four games, might have been his best outing since Brodeur removed himself from pregame warm-ups against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 24. The 39-year-old Swede, who has won six of nine decisions against the Flyers as a member of the Devils, finished with 23 saves.

"I felt confident but it also was the way the guys played in front of me," Hedberg said. "There was no guessing. We stayed aggressive and we were coming back hard. There weren't too many odd-man rushes and that allowed me to play my game."

Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who told the Philadelphia media Tuesday that two straight losses to the Devils during this home-and-home set would doom the team's Stanley Cup Playoff chances, allowed five goals on 32 shots.

"Just tired [of] losing, tired [of] losing," Bryzgalov said. "I have no emotions right now, nothing to say to you. Just another disappointment."

Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who took two shots and finished with a plus-1 rating, offered a positive spin.

"We're a team that should make the playoffs, and we're going to battle to the end of the season to make it," he said.

The victory was the third in four games for New Jersey (13-9-5), which remains seventh in the Eastern Conference with 31 points. The Devils are 21-5-1 in the regular season against the Flyers since 2005-06, and 13-5-1 since moving to Prudential Center in 2007.

"We haven't had many nights like that in the last two months," DeBoer said. "It's nice to score and get Heddy a win and have a game like that. Heddy was very confident and aggressive … those are the two words that come to mind when I think of his game [Wednesday]."

The loss was the fourth in five games for the Flyers, who remain last in the Atlantic Division with a 12-15-1 record. If Philadelphia doesn't right the ship, and soon, it likely will miss qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07.

"On the nights we lose they certainly stand out," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "You play a game like [Wednesday], where there are things that happen that don't go your way, it's not one identifiable thing. A shorthanded goal, a turnover, a missed coverage -- there are just different things that go on that lead to opportunities against."

The Flyers and Devils play Friday at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

"We know it's not going to be easy [Friday] ... there will be pushback from them," DeBoer said. "But we also think we could play better than we did [Wednesday]."

Even before the opening faceoff, the Flyers received bad news, learning defenseman Luke Schenn was suffering from the flu and would not be available. That forced Laviolette to insert Kurtis Foster, who had missed the previous 12 games, into the lineup.

The Devils opened a 4-1 lead 6:31 into the second period on Loktionov's fourth goal of the season. He took an outlet feed from Alexei Ponikarovsky and skated down his left wing before putting the brakes on in the left circle, causing defenseman Braydon Coburn to fall to the ice. The 5-foot-10, 179-pound Russian then went backhand-to-forehand before ripping a shot through the five-hole on Bryzgalov.

Henrique tacked on his second goal of the game 1:16 into the third when he lofted a backhand attempt from low in the right circle over Bryzgalov's glove with his team on the power play for a commanding 5-1 lead.

"We keep pushing," Henrique said. "We went through the tough stretch there, but kept with the systems and we stayed calm and didn't panic. Everyone knew that we'd be all right coming out of it. It was just a matter of time."

The teams came out of the gate raring to go in the first, but it was New Jersey that opened a 3-1 lead.

Just 36 seconds after Jakub Voracek had pulled the Flyers even on a power-play goal at the 9:45 mark, Henrique sent a harmless attempt from the right circle toward Bryzgalov that deflected off a backpedaling Matt Read and across the goal line. Elias and Hedberg were credited with assists on the go-ahead goal. The Hedberg helper was his second with the Devils; the first came during the 2010-11 season.

"Heddy has been great coming in for us," Henrique said. "He gives us an opportunity to win. It was tough when he came in since the whole team was going through a tough stretch and things weren't going our way. He always makes big saves for us, held us in games and got us some wins. It's nice to be able to win for him now."

Kovalchuk extended the lead to 3-1 at 17:18 of the first when he connected for his fourth career shorthanded goal against the Flyers. After taking a feed from Stephen Gionta along the right-wing boards, Kovalchuk made like a locomotive over the Flyers blue line and into the circle before snapping a shot high to the short-side corner on Bryzgalov.

The Devils grabbed a 1-0 lead 2:02 into the game when red-hot Elias feathered a backhand attempt from the slot between the pads of Bryzgalov. The early goal against Philadelphia has been a common theme for the Devils this season. In a 3-0 win on Jan. 22, Travis Zajac scored 1:07 into the contest, and in a 5-3 triumph on Feb. 15, Zajac connected 40 seconds into the game.

Hedberg was making his 10th straight start in goal for the first time since 2001-02, when he started 10 in a row for the Pittsburgh Penguins from Jan. 5-23.

Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell closed out the scoring for the Flyers when he lifted a shot over Hedberg at the 16:08 mark to pull the Flyers within 5-2.


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