When Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren made the announcement that forward Ian Laperriere was expected to be in the lineup when the Flyers began the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, a sigh of relief came sweeping over the city of Philadelphia.
But an old enemy has emerged.
There was a scary sight during the second period of Monday’s battle between the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center, when newly acquired Devil Anssi Salmela was knocked out cold by a hit from Flyers’ forward Jeff Carter.
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The voodoo that the New Jersey Devils held over the Flyers the past few seasons appears to be over.
Goaltender Ray Emery stretched his shut-out streak to 109 minutes and rookie James van Riemsdyk had another excellent game, as the Flyers defeated Atlantic Division rival Devils, 5-2 , Saturday night at the Prudential Center.
With just eight games left in the regular season, the Flyers are starting to heat up. And at the same time, the seemingly invincible New Jersey Devils are falling apart.
After dwindling in the distance, 11 points behind the Devils for the Atlantic Division lead, the Flyers have closed the gap to just six points with a game in hand. The Flyers have won four of their last five games, including a big win over Jersey. The Devils are headed in a different direction, losing four in a row and making it possible, that if they can’t turn their situation around quickly, they might just get caught.
“We’ve lost four in a row now and we’ve won one of our last six, so I’d say it’s a big game,” said Devils coach Brent Sutter about his team’s upcoming game against the rival Rangers. “The reality of it all is that at this time of year every game is a big game. Every game is a desperate game because you know your opposition is going to be fighting for something. We’re still fighting for something. Philly wins tonight and they’re six points behind us with a game in hand.”
With Jersey looking for answers and off tonight, the Flyers have a golden opportunity to gain further ground when they host Eastern Conference leader Boston tonight at 7 p.m.
“I think the most important thing is taking each game individually and try and improve our point total,” said Flyers coach John Stevens, when asked about catching the Devils. “We want to get our team game together and if we’re playing well and winning a good share of games we’ll get where we need to go.”
For one of the few times this season, the Flyers have selected goaltender Marty Biron to start back-to-back games. After playing a big part of the Flyers’ 3-1 win over the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins, Sunday afternoon, and 6-4 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday, Biron will be back in net, as he tries to lead his team against the Atlantic Division leading New Jersey Devils.
“Marty is going to play,” said Flyers coach John Stevens. “He has played very well and he looked really solid yesterday. Because it was an afternoon game it gives him a day and a half to recover. Marty is playing his best hockey of the year and it’s good to keep him going.”
Biron, who has elevated his game down the stretch and solidified his hold over the Flyers’ number one spot, is 7-12 lifetime versus the Devils and 15-8 at home this season, but typically has not fared well in double header games.
However, the Devils are also on the tail end of a back-to-back series. They lost an Eastern Conference showdown against the the top-seeded Boston Bruins, 4-1, on Sunday. New Jersey has also struggled on the road of late, going just 3-5 in their last eight games away from the Prudential Center.
The Flyers are nine points behind the Devils for the division and conference, with one game in hand. The Devils are currently first in the division and second in the conference with 97 points. The Flyers stand in fourth place in the conference with 88 points.
Tonight’s game will be at 7 p.m. on Versus.