PHILADELPHIA – Danny Briere scored the winning goal 4:36 into overtime to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday to open the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Briere had his second chance at the winner count minutes after his earlier attempt was overturned on review because he kicked it into the net. He also scored in the second period.
He wasted no time making it up for the OT missed opportunity. He fired a slapper past Martin Brodeur for his seventh goal of the playoffs. Brodeur was screened in front by Philadelphia forward James van Riemsdyk.
Game 2 is Tuesday.
The Flyers took the series lead in their first game in a week after eliminating Pittsburgh in six games. The Devils played their third straight overtime game after defeating Florida in Games 6 and 7 to win the first-round series.
The Flyers put a slow start well behind them in the third and completely set the pace of the period. They used a tremendous forecheck to stave off the Devils and played with more life in their skates than a weary Devils team that had only a three-day break since their clincher.
"I thought we played real well in the first," New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer said. "We just couldn't keep it up."
The Flyers held the biggest edge, of course.
They had Claude Giroux.
Giroux wound from the circle and fired the puck high over Brodeur's right shoulder for the power-play goal and the 3-2 lead. Giroux scored his seventh goal already of the postseason, living up to coach Peter Laviolette's bold claim as, "the best in the world."
Petr Sykora wiped out the lead, though, when he raced past two defenders off a turnover and slipped the puck through Ilya Bryzgalov's pads for a soft goal to make it 3-3. It was his first playoff goal since 2008.
But Briere was the difference in overtime.
After finishing fifth in the East, the Flyers stormed to a 3-0 lead against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round and held on to take the series in six games.
The series was viewed as one more worthy of a conference final because of the talent and 100-plus point totals for each club.
The Devils, the No. 6 seed, were out to prove otherwise.
The Flyers carried over their trend of falling behind from the opening round and showed again they are at their best when playing from behind
Jakub Voracek made a nice pass from along the boards to Briere and he busted free alone on the open ice for the breakaway goal in the second. Briere, one of the Flyers' all-time great postseason performers, scored his sixth goal of the playoffs.
James van Riemsdyk knocked in a rebound and gave the Flyers a 2-1 edge only 37 seconds later. Van Riemsdyk stamped himself as a franchise cornerstone last postseason when he scored seven goals in only 11 postseason games and earned a $25.5 million, six-year contract extension. But he scored only 11 goals in 43 games in a season derailed by a broken left foot and a concussion.
But van Riemsdyk came to play in Game 1, perhaps spurred on by playing his homestate team. He is, after all, a Middletown, N.J., native. And he was key on the winner as well, as he stood tall directly in front of a prone Brodeur as the winner trickled by.
Flyers fans who have suffered through decades of goaltending woes took great delight in chanting "Mar-ty! Mar-ty!" at the three-time Stanley Cup champion. Brodeur has faced the Flyers four other times in the postseason, winning two.
Travis Zajac, who scored an overtime winner vs. Florida in Game 6, as well, poked one past Bryzgalov for a power-play goal late in the second to tie the game.
This all came from a Devils team that won a 3-2 double-overtime Game 7 thriller against Southeast Division-champion Florida on Thursday.
But the Flyers started the way they did the previous two series vs. New Jersey: By winning Game 1. They eventually won the series in 2004 and 2010, reaching the Stanley Cup finals in the latter. In fact, in the previous series between these two rivals — separated by just 87 miles — the winner reached the finals, with the Devils winning the Cup in 1995 and 2000.
Perhaps a byproduct of the week layoff, the Flyers were lethargic on the ice at the start and let the Devils do what they wanted with the puck.
Philadelphia's slow-start plague struck again, this time only 3:11 into the game.
Flyers defenseman Matt Read turned over the puck and Patrik Elias took control behind the net. He fed it to Zach Parise for the one-timer past Bryzgalov and the quick 1-0 lead.
Bryzgalov had two shutouts and won all three starts vs. the Devils in the regular season. He allowed one goal on 76 shots.
So much for the regular season.
The Devils never stopped shooting the rest of the first. They took the first 11 shots before the Flyers finally lobbed the puck from the blue line toward Brodeur.
Forward Scott Hartnell, Philadelphia's regular-season leading goal scorer, stopped more pucks early in the game than Bryzgalov. He blocked a shot and hobbled to the locker room in pain. He returned a short time later.
The Devils are now 2-2 on the road in the postseason and this was their first loss in overtime.
"We haven't made excuses all year," DeBoer said. "We're not going to now. It is what it is."
Notes: Hall of Famers Gordie Howe and Mark Howe were at the game. Howe was greeted as he stepped off the press box elevator by Flyers Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke. The two shook hands and caught up for a few moments. ... The Flyers and Devils split their season series 3-3. ... Brodeur will celebrate his 40th birthday next Sunday when the teams play Game 4 of their series in New Jersey. ... Philadelphia is now 4-1 at home this postseason.