-- The New Jersey Devils
have an opportunity to open a two-game lead in a playoff series for the first time in six years Sunday when they play host to the Philadelphia Flyers
in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal at Prudential Center.
How significant is that? Well, since the franchise first qualified for the playoffs in 1988, the Devils have taken at least a two-game lead in a playoff series on 14 occasions and they've won every time.
Still, not since their 2006 Conference Quarterfinal sweep of the New York Rangers
have the Devils enjoyed the luxury of leading a best-or-seven by at least two games. A victory on Sunday, however, will give New Jersey a 3-1 lead with a chance to close it out Tuesday in Philadelphia.
The last time the Devils lost the first game of a playoff series, as they did against the Flyers this series, and won the next three games was against Ottawa in the 2003 Conference Finals. New Jersey would win that best-of-seven in seven games before defeating Anaheim in the Stanley Cup Final in seven.
The Devils made final preparations for their Game 4 matchup with the Flyers Sunday morning during an optional skate at Prudential Center. All players were present with the exception of Petr Sykora
, Dainius Zubrus
, Ryan Carter
, Andy Greene
, Bryce Salvador
and Marek Zidlicky
"As I said in the Florida series, I really felt this would be a slow build for us through the playoffs and we would get better as we went like we did during the regular season," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "It's new for a lot of guys in the room despite the average age of the team and the great experience we have with a few guys. We've got a lot of young guys at key positions too so I think we're getting better and better like we did during the regular season and that's the key."
New Jersey is hoping to give their hometown fans something to remember on the day goalie Martin Brodeur
celebrates his 40th birthday.
The Devils sport a 3-1 mark at Prudential Center in the playoffs. The only loss was a 4-3 setback to the Florida Panthers
in Game 3 of the Conference Quarterfinal, in which the team blew a 3-0 lead.
"We really need the support [of the home crowd]; they gave us that all year long," Ilya Kovalchuk
said. "Now, I think it's the most exciting time of the year and they give us a lot of extra jump that's for sure."
Devils coach Pete DeBoer said the atmosphere Thursday in New Jersey's 4-3 overtime victory was fantastic.
"It was electric," DeBoer said. "It's a great environment and it really gives us an extra lift. The guys, when the building gets going, it's a huge momentum builder for us. So, I know the guys are excited and they've been talking about it since the last game ended and I think can't get wait to get out there [Sunday]."
Devils captain Zach Parise
considers it a compliment that several Flyers' players had publicly admitted their frustration in this series.
"It means we're doing something right, we're playing the right way, and we've been really good in our defensive zone and haven't given them a lot of room," Parise said. "With all the really good players they got over there, you have to limit their space and I think our defense has done a really good job of that and the forwards are doing a good job of backchecking, so if they're saying their frustrated, I guess that's a good compliment to us."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale