NEWARK, N.J. Through so much mixing and matching on the Flyers lines this season, the one unit that seemed to go through the least change was Claude Girouxs line with Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell.
Unless hit with injury, the trio was together for the vast majority of the season. That is, until Thursday night, in Game 3 of the Flyers Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New Jersey Devils.
In Game 3, coach Peter Laviolette took a surprising gamble: He replaced Jagr with Jakub Voracek, causing a shuffling of players throughout three of the teams four lines. Wayne Simmonds moved back onto a line with Danny Briere. Jagr slid all the way to the third line, playing alongside Matt Read and Brayden Schenn.
After the way the Flyers looked on Tuesday night in front of the home crowd, changes had to be expected heading into Game 3. Girouxs line was practically invisible in the previous game, combining for only four shots on net. That, the three players agreed, was unacceptable.
But so many big changes to the lines was above and beyond what was expected. Was it a smart move to adjust to the Devils? Or was it too much of a panic move by Laviolette?
The new units certainly found more chemistry than they did in Game 2. Voracek thrived from the get-go with his new linemates, and was responsible for setting up the play that allowed Matt Carle to send in a rocket that tied the game at two in the second period. But it simply wasnt enough (see game recap).
Lavy told me I was going to start with G, Voracek said. Obviously, we didnt win the game so it wasnt good enough.
Patrik Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk goals scored 20 seconds apart in the first period, set a new record for New Jersey for two fastest goals.
How ironic that the previous mark came in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals against the Flyers. That would be 26 seconds by Petr Sykora and Bobby Holik on May 14 in Philadelphia in Game 1 which the Devils won, 4-1.
The Flyers are now 2-1 this spring in overtime and 36-38 all time. The Flyers have not won three consecutive OT playoff games in the same playoff season since 2000. This was the first time in five occasions that the Flyers have lost a playoff game in overtime to New Jersey.
Danny Briere notched his 50th career playoff goal in the third period. His two points gave him 71 playoff points as a Flyer and move him past both Reggie Leach and Tim Kerr into sixth place on the Flyers all-time playoff scoring list.
The Flyers are 13-19 all-time in a best-of-seven series when losing Game 3. They are 7-19 all time when trailing a series 2-1 after three games, and are 13-13 in Game 4 when trailing 2-1.
In the previous four series between the teams since the Devils moved to New Jersey, the team leading 2-1 has won three of them. The only exception was when the Flyers led 2-1 in the 2000 conference finals.
What doctor ordered for Devils
He didn't have a shot on goal in Game 1. He missed Game 2 entirely. He was all-but-invisible until Game 3.
After sitting out the second game of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals with a lower body injury widely believed to be a back issue, Devils superstar Ilya Kovalchuk returned to the ice in Game 3. He had a goal in the first period and added two assists, including the one that set up New Jersey's game-winner in overtime.
I feel a lot better compared to almost all the first series and the first game of the second series, Kovalchuk said. I want to say thanks to all the trainers and doctors. Hopefully Ill move on and feel better every day.
Kovalchuk said he was at home with his wife and some friends for Game 2 against the Flyers. He missed New Jersey's first goal that evening, scored by Adam Larsson, because he was putting his daughter to bed. Thereafter, he decided not to watch the rest.
"I thought it would be a little bit of good luck," Kovalchuk said.