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New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers @NHLdotcom
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GAME: New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers.

PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference quarterfinals; Flyers lead 3-1.

TIME: Saturday, 3 p.m. EDT.

The last time the New Jersey Devils faced a 3-1 series deficit against the Philadelphia Flyers, they went on to win the Stanley Cup.

If they want to defend their latest championship, the Devils will have to make another big comeback as they head to Philadelphia for Game 5.

"It helps mentally that we know it can happen, that we can come back and win the series," New Jersey forward Patrik Elias said. "But it doesn't happen that often."

Elias is one of the remaining Devils who were down 3-1 against the Flyers in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals, with two of the remaining three games to be played in Philadelphia. New Jersey came back to win that series before beating Dallas in the Stanley Cup finals.

Until teams overcame 3-1 deficits to win series three times last season, no NHL team had done it since the Devils four years ago.

"This is the same scenario. We were in every game and could have won every game," said center Scott Gomez, another member of the 2000 team. "This is the same. Guys are still positive."

A big difference between this series and four years ago is the man protecting the Flyers' net.

Robert Esche, who had never started a playoff game before this series, has outplayed reigning Vezina Trophy winner Martin Brodeur, who has led New Jersey to three titles since 1995. Esche's brilliant 35-save performance in Game 4 resulted in his first postseason shutout, 3-0.

"For whatever reason, I am calm with him in the net," said captain Keith Primeau, one of four Flyers left from the 2000 team. "There is no nervousness when shots are put up, even when goals are scored. I don't worry about how he's going to gather himself. He moves on the next play or next shot. It's a settling feeling for the players."

New Jersey has often controlled the action, outshooting Philadelphia 123-94 in the series, but the low-key Esche has often come up with big saves and has helped hold the Devils scoreless on 12 power-play chances in the Flyers' three wins.

"We sit and talk about him so much," Devils forward Jeff Friesen said. "I don't recall last year worrying about a goaltender so much."

While New Jersey is one loss away from being eliminated after winning the Stanley Cup last season, Philadelphia is looking to reach the conference semifinals for a second straight year.

The Flyers surely would like to end this series as quickly as possible. Last season, they endured a grueling seven-game series against Toronto in the opening round and had little time to rest for the next series with Ottawa, losing in six games.

"We know how hard they're going to play, and we saw some of their best hockey (Wednesday)," Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We know we'll have to play our absolute best to close this series out."

The top lines for both teams have been productive. Elias, Gomez and Brian Gionta have combined for 14 points, the same total for Philadelphia's Jeremy Roenick, Alex Zhamnov and Tony Amonte.

The difference in the series, outside of goaltending, may be with the captains.

While the Devils are still missing theirs - Scott Stevens has been sidelined since early January with post-concussion syndrome - Primeau has contributed offensively (three points) and has used his size to help wear down the smaller Devils.

"They're not going away quietly. We know that," Primeau said.

If the Devils win, the teams will make the 1{-hour trip up the New Jersey Turnpike to Continental Airlines Arena for Game 6 on Sunday afternoon.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Devils - 100 points; 6th seed. Flyers - 101 points; 3rd seed.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Devils - Elias, 3 goals; Gomez, 5 assists; Gomez and Brian Gionta, 5 points; Scott Niedermayer, 6 PIM. Flyers - Zhamnov, Roenick and Primeau, 2 goals; Kim Johnsson, 5 assists; Zhamnov, Roenick and Johnsson, 5 points; four with 4 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Devils - Power play: 18.8 percent (3 for 16). Penalty killing: 60 percent (6 for 10). Flyers - Power play: 40 percent (4 for 10). Penalty killing: 81.3 percent (13 for 16).

GOALTENDERS: Devils - Brodeur (1-3, 2.76 GAA); Scott Clemmensen (no appearances). Flyers - Esche (3-1, 1 SO, 2.01 GAA); Sean Burke (no appearances).

Associated Press
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