GAME PREVIEW: EASTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS GAME 5 – Flyers vs. New Jersey Devils

The Game: The Philadelphia Flyers will look to end their best of seven series with the New Jersey Devils tonight in Newark, New Jersey.

The Flyers were able to have their home ice advantage live up to the task so far this postseason, taking both Games Three and Four from the visiting Devils, and winning the fourth contest in convincing 4-1 fashion.  With that being said, the hardest win to get in a Stanley Cup Playoff series is, without question, the last one.  Just ask the New York Rangers what happened to them in this exact scenario last season in the 2 vs. 7 match-up.  Up three games to one, New York fell apart at the seams and blew their lead as they eventually lost in the dying moments of Game 7 to the Washington Capitals.  The Flyers do not even want to be faced with a situation like that one, so it would greatly behoove them to come out and do their absolute best to close this series out tonight.

The Story: I said it above, winning Game Five will be a tall order to the Flyers.  Well, it was to begin with.  Yesterday, it just got harder.  The Flyers learned that they will be without the services of two of their top forwards – Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter – as each have sustained foot fractures that will keep them out for the remainder of this series.  General Manager Paul Holmgren said that Gagne has a broken toe and will be out three weeks, while Carter is in a boot after breaking his right foot and will be out for six weeks of action.  With that being said, it’s now time for others to step up.  Mike Richards has been the Flyers’ best player this whole series, and he’ll have to be even better tonight.  Claude Giroux has dazzled us at times, but he’ll need to be a force for sixty-minute periods the rest of the way for the Flyers.  Danny Briere, who finally got off the schnide last game in tallying his first goal of the series, will need to build on that performance and bring it even more tonight.  It’ll be up to the Flyers as a collective group, because they can definitely get some rest for themselves with a win tonight.  Many series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are far from over, and a Flyers win tonight would give them the ability to get some rest and relaxation for about three or four days before playing the next game.  It’s not a be all-end all if the Flyers can’t send the Devils out of the postseason party, but there’s no reason to give New Jersey any momentum now.

Who to Watch on the Devils: Ilya Kovalchuk, Left Wing.

After guaranteeing victory in Game Five, it's up to Kovy to back up his talk

Any player who is confident enough to make a guarantee for a victory in professional sports is immediately someone the opposing team will fix their eyes on.  Usually it is one of the more talented players on a given team – Kovy fits that bill.  Usually it is a player that leads by example and has had enough success to warrant his prediction – Kovy does not fit that bill.  In fact, its almost comical that Kovalchuk made this sort of bold statement, seeing that his career playoff record is a grand total of one win to seven losses.  Don’t get me wrong, I feel that this series is far from over, and Kovalchuk’s six points (2 G, 4 A) are a big reason as to why, but seriously?  Why make the situation more tense for your team?  It’s statements like this that make me question Kovalchuk, but a solid performance by the most offensively skilled player on the Devils’ roster could easily shut me, as well as everybody else, up.  Kovy has dazzled everyone at times in this series, with end to end rushes, and some beautiful stickhandling that makes even the most passionate Flyers fan simply go “Wow.”  However, at times it’s seemed like the Devils are watching Kovalchuk as much as we, the fans are.  That can’t happen over the course of a hockey game.  At this level, and especially at this stage, you need to play like a team to be successful.  If the Devils can do that, and rally around their superstar in the process, we may see a Game Six in Philadelphia on Sunday.  If they allow Kovy to turn the game into his own, chances are they’ll be setting up tee-times for the weekend.  Either way, Kovalchuk will most certainly have an impact on this game – whether it be in a negative or positive light.  That’s the type of situation you put yourself in by making a guarantee.

The Skinny: As the Devils head home to the Prudential Center, they do so without a glowing amount of confidence of being able to win in their home building.  The Devils are 3-6 in home playoff games since moving to “The Rock”, and the Flyers were able to take Game One of the first two games that this series began with in Newark.  Flyers lead the season series between the two teams including regular season and playoffs, going 8-2-0.

Notes: With no Gagne or Carter, expect Ville Leino in the line-up for the Flyers tonight as one of the new forwards.  Playoff hockey is nothing new to Leino, as he was apart of the Detroit Red Wings’ Stanley Cup Finals run a year ago.  The second offensive replacement will certainly be from the Adirondack Phantoms, but as to who the player may be, neither Peter Laviolette nor Paul Holmgren have commented.  In my opinion, it’s down to three: David Laliberte, Andreas Nodl, and Patrick Maroon.  If I have to pick, I’m taking Laliberte – he played for the Flyers earlier in the season when there were injury issues amongst the team and played fairly well.  Same old story in goal tonight: Brian Boucher will oppose Martin Brodeur.  Earlier start time in this one than previous weekday games, as the puck drops at 7:00 PM EST, not the usual 7:30 PM EST.

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