Two words: Alexei Ponikarovsky. Sure, I've been hard on him all season long, but he sure did step up in a big way tonight. Ponikarovsky sent the Devils to victory with the game-winning goal 17:21 into overtime. Devils' star Ilya Kovalchuk played a huge part in the win tonight, with a goal and two assists. New Jersey skates into Sunday's game with a 2-1 series lead and a whole lot of momentum.
Things started off rather gloomy for the Devils tonight. Adam Henrique took a tripping penalty just 4:48 into the game and gave the Flyers the first power play opportunity of the evening. Brayden Schenn capitalized on the chance and put the Flyers up 1-0 just a minute and twenty seconds later. It looked like Martin Brodeur could have saved the shot, but after a moment of hesitation from Marty, the puck ended up in the back of the net. Patrik Elias had the answer for the Devils 12:33 into the opening period when he scored on the power play to tie the game at one. Just a short twenty seconds later, Ilya Kovalchuk fired one past Ilya Bryzgalov to put New Jersey up by one. The Devils continued to play smart hockey by staying out of the penalty box and took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
This second period was one that Devils fans will want to forget. New Jersey seemed to lose some of their first period momentum and took a couple of penalties that could have been avoided. The officiating also took a turn for the worse in period number two. Ilya Kovalchuk was called for delay of game after he cleared the puck over the glass. However, after looking at the replay, it was clear that the puck was deflected over the boards; nonetheless, New Jersey was able to kill off the penalty--something they would have to do twice in overtime in order to win the game. Matt Carle scored his second goal of the playoffs 4:44 into the middle period to tie the game at two goals a piece.
Looking to rebound from their second period blunders, the Devils came out strong and appeared to have regained their first period energy. A great New Jersey forecheck lead to the tie-breaking goal from Zach Parise 7:29 into the third. Patrik Elias made a great pass while pinned in between two defenders and the boards to set up Parise. Zach then took the puck around the net and beat Bryzgalov through the five-hole to give the Devils a 3-2 lead. Shortly after, at 11:04 into the third, Danny Briere tied the game for Philadelphia on a rebound that should have been controlled by Brodeur. The Devils defense did a poor job of covering Briere, as he had a wide open path to the front of the net. Sixty minutes of hockey was not enough for these two teams tonight, as this game went into overtime tied at three goals a piece.
Yet again, the Devils had to battle not only the boys in orange and black, but also the boys in white and black. Dainius Zubrus was called for boarding 8:23 into the extra period on a questionable call from the officials. Zubrus did not leave his feet on the hit and the puck had just been played. The Devils were able to successfully kill off the penalty before Bryce Salvador was called for delay of game 12:29 in. The best penalty kill in NHL history apparently showed up for the game tonight, as New Jersey was successful again in killing off the penalty. Cue Alexei Ponikarovsky. Ilya Kovalchuk maintained possession of the puck in the neutral zone as Alexei Ponikarovsky jumped onto the ice. Philadelphia was caught in a line change and Poni skated in two-on-one. Poni shot the puck and collected his own rebound, back-handing the game winner into the back of the net. The goal horn sounded and the chant began...
- Ilya Kovalchuk was strong in his return to the line up tonight, collecting three points (1 G, 2 A). Without Kovy, this game could have been a LOT different for the Devils.
- The Devils penalty kill was strong once again tonight as they went 4-for-5. As strong as the Flyers power play is, a stat like this is key.
- Alexei Ponikarovsky finally produced a big-time goal for New Jersey. Maybe this will give the youngster some confidence heading into Sunday's game.
- Martin Brodeur looked a little shaky at times and let up some big time rebounds. If the Devils want to continue their success, Marty will have to keep his game under control and play like the veteran that he is.
- The Devils have been plagued by delay of game penalties in the playoffs. In order to win, New Jersey needs to stay out of the box. Taking stupid penalties such as delay of game is really discouraging.
- The officiating was horrible tonight. At times, it seemed like the referees were watching a completely different game. The Devils were able to overcome the poor officiating tonight; it looks like they will have to continue to do so as there has been NO improvement in officiating throughout the playoffs.
Above: Alexei Ponikarovsky #12 of the New Jersey Devils scores a goal in overtime to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Prudential Center on May 3, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. The New Jersey Devils defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 3-4 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Devils are back in action on Sunday night (7:30 PM) as they take on the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. I will see YOU at the Prudential Center as New Jersey looks to take a 3-1 series lead. For all of your latest Devils news, follow the @RWTDblog staff on twitter: @RealScottRobb, @DEVIN88MATTERA, and @Rvaidya33. You can also check us out on facebook, too. LET'S GO DEVILS...