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Devils win opener in back-and-forth game vs. Flyers

by Mike G. Morreale

PHILADELPHIA -- New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer preached about the importance of offensive depth and scoring at even strength all offseason. He knew the Devils would have to score more in order to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012.

DeBoer got a glimpse of what could be the start of something special Thursday in a season-opening 6-4 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center.

The Devils, who finished 27th in the NHL in 2013-14 with 2.40 goals per game and were next-to-last with 128 goals scored in 5-on-5 situations, scored six even-strength goals against the Flyers.

"We had more 5-on-5 goals [Thursday] than I think we had for weeks at different stretches last year," DeBoer said with a smile. "But we still have a lot of work."

Offensive support was something goalie Cory Schneider rarely received in 2013-14, when the Devils scored 1.50 goals for every 60 minutes he was in net.

"We've got the ability at any given point in the game where one of our three lines can hop over the boards and get you a goal, so it's a nice luxury to have," DeBoer said. "We just have to keep that going."

Dainius Zubrus scored the game-winner at 7:13 of the third period, snapping a 4-4 tie following a furious Philadelphia rally in the second period.

Mike Cammalleri, signed by the Devils as a free agent this summer to provide some offensive spark, scored twice, including an empty-net goal with one minute remaining.

"It's nice to score and nice for a guy like Cammalleri to score a couple," Zubrus said. "It's good for everybody to gain confidence that we can score goals, but we got a couple nice bounces and it got a little carried away there. The goals will come if we play our game."

The Devils' offensive barrage also included goals by Michael Ryder, Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias. Ryder and Jaromir Jagr each had two assists.

Jagr moved past Steve Yzerman into sole possession of sixth place on the NHL's all-time scoring list with 1,757 points by assisting on each of Cammalleri's goals. His 1,052 assists rank eighth all-time, 11 behind Yzerman.

Schneider made 35 saves to earn the win in his first career start against the Flyers. The 39 shots against were the most he's faced since joining the Devils (he faced 38 shots Jan. 16 vs. the Colorado Avalanche). He was particularly good in the third period when he turned away 12 of 13 shots, many with New Jersey clinging to a 5-4 lead.

"It wasn't typical Devils hockey, but we did a lot of good stuff in the first half of the game," Schneider said. "We played textbook hockey on the road but let them back in late in the second. It was great to get the win. I thought we showed a lot of resiliency in the third to gut it out and the guys bailed me out. That might have been a game last year that would have gotten away from us."

Claude Giroux and Vincent Lecavalier each scored for the Flyers (0-2-0), who got two goals from Wayne Simmonds in the final minute of the second period.

"It's not the start [to the season] we want," Giroux said. "We have a lot of work to do, we know that. We played a lot of good minutes the way we wanted [but] a lot of mistakes that we're going to look over and that's how we're going to get better."

Flyers goalie Steve Mason, who made 31 saves in a 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, made 20 saves against the Devils.

Elias gave the Devils a 4-3 lead 4:16 into the third when he collected a pass from defenseman Marek Zidlicky and easily tapped home a shot at the left post. The goal was the 36th for Elias in 83 career games against the Flyers.

The Flyers answered 15 seconds later when Lecavalier fired a wrist shot past Schneider to tie the game for the second time. But the tie didn't last long: Zubrus gave the Devils a 5-4 lead at 7:13 when he fired a long wrist shot that seemed to handcuff Mason.

The Flyers rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the second with three goals in the final 4:16 of the period.

Giroux pulled the Flyers within 3-1 with a power-play goal off a snap shot at 15:44 before Simmonds cut the deficit to one with an even-strength goal off a rip from the left hash at 19:03. Simmonds held on to the puck and forced New Jersey defenseman Jon Merrill to the ice before skating around him and unleashing past Schneider.

Simmonds scored his second of the game 56 seconds later when he redirected a pass from Lecavalier from in the slot with less than a second to play in the period. The Flyers benefitted not only with the man advantage, but dominated in the faceoff circle against the Devils, leading to greater puck possession and opportunities.

"I thought we showed a lot of character and resiliency," DeBoer said. "Again, it's early in the season and there are things we want to clean up but we did a lot of good things too. We found a way to get two points in a tough building."

Henrique gave the Devils a 2-0 lead 2:10 into the second when his shot from the right circle deflected off the stick of Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn and past Mason. Schenn finished with a career-low minus-5 rating.

"A couple of fluky plays, one goes off his skate, but there is not much he can do there," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "He can play better like everybody else. Listen, we did a lot of good things, but it's not good enough. Obviously we lost the game, and everybody's got to do better."

Cammalleri made it 3-0 when he tipped the puck past Mason from the slot off a turnaround wrist shot by Jagr from along the right-wing half boards at 5:33.

Cammalleri was asked if he felt good chemistry with linemates Travis Zajac and Jagr.

"I liked our intent and what we were trying to do," Cammalleri said. "I think our execution can get a little quicker and we could move our hands and legs a little quicker; I can for sure. But I liked our intent."

The Devils took a 1-0 lead 12:05 into the game when Ryder took a back pass from Ryane Clowe above the right circle and fired a wrist shot that beat Mason to the long side. The Flyers goalie could not locate the puck because Lecavalier and Henrique were screening him.

Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn, who was a late scratch with a lower-body injury, was certainly missed along the blue line.

"It's hard to replace him, but we got guys capable," Berube said. "I thought [Nick] Schultz came in there and played a good game."

Schultz played 14:46 and took one shot. Coburn averaged 22:26 last season.

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