Philadelphia, PA – Injuries create opportunities for other players, and Adam Larsson made the most of his chance on Tuesday night.
The rookie defenseman scored in his playoff debut, igniting a four-goal third period that propelled the New Jersey Devils to a 4-1 win over the host Philadelphia Flyers in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Larsson, the fourth player taken in the 2011 draft, had been a healthy scratch for each of New Jersey's first eight postseason games. A lower-body injury to sniper Ilya Kovalchuk enabled the 19-year-old Swede to get in the lineup and help the sixth-seeded Devils even up this series.
Game 3 is slated for Thursday at the Prudential Center in Newark.
Larsson tied the game while the teams skated 4-on-4. Former Flyers draft pick Dainius Zubrus collected a loose puck in the right circle and backhanded it to Larsson, who drifted in from the right point before beating Philadelphia goalie Ilya Bryzgalov high on the glove side at the 3:08 mark of the third.
"I was a little bit rusty in the first five, ten minutes, but the longer the game went, I felt pretty good in there," admitted Larsson, who played in only his second game since March 25.
A 30-goal scorer during the regular season, David Clarkson gave New Jersey the lead with his first tally of the playoffs. Flyers rookie center Sean Couturier, selected four picks after Larsson, lined up for a defensive zone draw and lost it to Patrik Elias, who swatted the puck into the right corner.
Philadelphia defenseman Nicklas Grossmann's pass got tangled in the skates of Couturier, and Clarkson sent the puck to a wide-open Zach Parise in the slot. Bryzgalov poked the puck off his stick, but Clarkson followed up the play and fired it home at 11:17.
"I think the goalie poke-checked it and it landed on my stick. It's a good feeling when you see the open net and put it in," Clarkson said.
Travis Zajac scored on a backhand wraparound at 14:01 and Bryce Salvador added an shorthanded empty-net goal with 2:51 to play.
When asked what turned it around for his team in the third period, New Jersey head coach Peter DeBoer replied, "I just think just sticking with it. We really felt we were generating chances. We're spending a lot of time in their end. Bryzgalov made some big saves for them early and we just felt that we just had to stick with it. That resiliency finally paid off."
Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette attributed the Devils' success to their legs.
"They skated well tonight. I thought that their skating was better than ours," he stated.
The fifth-seeded Flyers went nearly three minutes before recording their first shot. It ended up behind Martin Brodeur, who turned away the remaining 19 fired in his direction.
Matt Read, who wasn't named a finalist for the Calder Trophy despite leading all rookies with 24 goals during the regular season, was positioned in the right circle and one-timed a behind-the-net feed from Brayden Schenn past Brodeur 2:53 into the game.
Philadelphia preserved the lead by killing consecutive power plays, and Bryzgalov made a couple big stops, including one on rookie-of-the-year nominee Adam Henrique from in close with about six minutes remaining.
Bryzgalov denied Henrique on two more occasions from the slot in a second period the Devils controlled territorially. New Jersey boosted a 12-2 edge in shots, but still trailed after 40 minutes.
The relentless pressure led to Game 1 overtime hero Danny Briere taking a holding penalty behind his own net. Bryzgalov stood tall between the pipes, sliding to his right to absorb a Peter Harrold shot. Harrold assumed Kovalchuk's role on the Devils' top power-play unit.
Brodeur didn't face a shot until 1:28 remained in the middle frame. A penalty for slashing was being assessed to Henrique when Claude Giroux ended the drought. Briere also put the puck on net before New Jersey gained possession of it for the whistle to be blown.
"[Bryzgalov] was our best player by far today," said Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen. "He was solid out there, he played really well and he gave us a chance to win the game but we couldn't get that for him."
The Flyers were 0-for-5 on the power play. It marked the first game this postseason that they didn't register a power-play goal...Bryzgalov finished with 31 saves...The Flyers had outscored the opposition by a 10-3 margin in the third period in this year's playoffs.