Dainius Zubrus scored two goals and the New Jersey Devils rallied from an early two-goal deficit and pushed the Philadelphia Flyers to the brink of elimination with a 4-2 victory Sunday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.
Zubrus put New Jersey ahead 3-2 late in the second period and iced it with an empty-net goal in the final minute. Minutes after his first goal, Zubrus took a questionable hit to the head from Claude Giroux, a hit that Devils coach Peter DeBoer felt the NHL should examine before Game 5 on Tuesday night in Philadelphia.
"It was a great effort from the guys," said Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who had an easy night on his 40th birthday. "We started not the way we wanted to start the game. We get bang-bang — a power-play goal and a short-handed goal — but we beared down afterward and we dominated the game."
Petr Sykora and Marek Zidlicky also scored for the Devils, who can advance to their first conference final since 2003. New Jersey has never lost a playoff series after taking a 3-1 lead.
In winning their third straight, the Devils outshot Philadelphia 43-22, and Brodeur even picked up an assist on Zubrus' final goal on a night as he became the first goaltender to appear in an NHL playoff game as a teenager and a 40-year-old.
Scott Hartnell and Giroux scored first-period goals for the Flyers, who once again were a step slow.
"We just have to play better," Giroux said. "We should know by now what we're supposed to do at all times. And there's not one guy out there that's going to quit."
The question for the Flyers is whether they will have Giroux, who has eight goals in the postseason.
"It was quick play. And hockey is a quick game. I think I should be fine," Giroux said.
DeBoer wasn't so sure.
"For me, it looks like the textbook hit that they're trying to take out of the game," DeBoer said.
The Flyers seemed to come apart at the end of the game. Defenseman Kimmo Tomonen took a foolish penalty in the closing minutes and Philadelphia never got off a good shot after pulling goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in the final minute.
In fact, Zubrus was about to score into an empty net when he was hooked. Still, the puck went off his stick and into the net.
That's how dominant the Devils were against a Flyers group that has fallen apart after knocking off the Pittsburgh Penguins.
New Jersey outshot Philadelphia 32-12 in the first two periods, but the shots advantage only translated into a 3-2 lead, with the Devils scoring three in a row to wipe out a 2-0 deficit.
Zubrus gave New Jersey its first lead with 2:13 left in the second period. The Flyers actually broke up a 3-on-1 break into their zone, but they lost sight of Zubrus, and Adam Henrique found him all alone in front for a shot that went in off Bryzgalov.
Moments before the goal, Brodeur stopped a shot from the point by Timonen, and Hartnell couldn't get off a good shot on the rebound with Brodeur down and the net open.
Sykora, who might have gotten a piece of Hartnell's rebound attempt, quickly led the 3-on-1 counterattack and the Devils pulled ahead.
The Devils forced Flyers coach Peter Laviolette to use his timeout less than 5 minutes after the opening faceoff, and for a couple of minutes it appeared to be a magical move.
Getting a lift from its special teams, Philadelphia jumped to a 2-0 lead.
Hartnell gave the Flyers the lead, deflecting Giroux's shot past Brodeur seconds after Travis Zajac was tripped and took a retaliatory interference penalty.
Giroux, who had been invisible in the Devils' wins in Games 2 and 3, doubled the margin at 13:40 by beating the birthday boy on a 2-on-1 short-handed tally after taking a great break-in-pass from Maxime Talbot.
The goal came 13 seconds after Philadelphia defenseman Andreas Lilja was called for tripping, but the Devils didn't let the man advantage go to waste.
Sykora cut the Devils' deficit in half late in the power play, redirecting a nice cross-ice pass by Zidlicky past Bryzgalov, who was a little slow covering the corner of the net after the defenseman made the pass from the right point to the left edge of the crease.
Zidlicky tied it with 1:51 left in the period after the Flyers' seemed to lose sight of the defenseman after he pinched down from the right point. The puck ended up on the left point and fellow defenseman Bryce Salvador found Zidlicky between the circles for a redirection.
NOTES: Devils fourth-line C Ryan Carter was scratched because of an illness. Tim Sestito played in his first NHL postseason game replacing him. ... Sean Couturier, who missed the final two periods of Game 3 with a lower-body injury, was back in the Flyers' lineup. ... Ilya Kovalchuk provided some entertainment in the third period attempting to keep a puck in the Flyers' zone with a header at the blue line. He failed. ...The Devils have sold out all five of their home games in the playoffs.