Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Boucher, Flyers Take Game 1 Away From Devils

By: Tim Brennan

Questions have surrounded the Flyers goaltending throughout this season and even in the past but Brian Boucher made a claim for solidifying the position. After an inspiring effort in the final game of the season to give the Flyers a playoff berth, Boucher stepped his game up and made 23 saves to record his first postseason victory since May 20, 2000. When the goaltender comes up big in the first game of a series, the team feeds off of the positive energy and goes to another level.

The Flyers didn't look sharp in the first period, surrendering nine shots and giving up odd man chances, which luckily were turned away by Boucher. The Devils took a different approach in the first period, using a run and gun system instead of their usual defensive trap mindset. Their top forwards were breaking through the Flyers defense and creating plenty of scoring chances lead by Zach Parise with 3.

It wasn't until halfway through the second when the Flyers tallied on the powerplay. Chris Pronger parked out in front of Martin Brodeur and proceeded to tip a pass attempt from Mike Richards after it went off of Simon Gagne. The momentum quickly turned in the Flyers favor when Ian Laperriere knocked down a dump in and sent a pass behind his back to Mike Richards who fired a slapshot past Brodeur to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead. Frustration settled in for the Devils as they continued to create chances but couldn't solve Boucher. Ilya Kovalchuk provided plenty of spark for the Devils offense with some dazzling moves and shots but was turned aside each and every time, resulting in an angry Kovalchuk punching the glass at one point.

An early penalty in the third taken by Oskars Bartulis resulted in a four minute powerplay for the Devils. What resulted was a strong effort from the Flyers penalty killers, with Ian Laperriere and Blair Betts leading the charge. Betts was a member of one of the best penalty killing units last year with the New York Rangers while Laperriere is well known for making blocking shots an art. The focus from the Flyers standpoint was to limit Kovalchuk's chances, block all passing lanes and keep the Devils on the perimeter. All of those were accomplished, leading to a defeated feeling from the Devils. It would take New Jersey until the 17 minute mark in the final period to pick up a goal off a blast from Travis Zajac. With Zach Parise screening Boucher, Zajac fired a shot towards the net that blew past Boucher. The Flyers would hold off the Devils in the final seconds however to claim victory by a score of 2-1.

The big story from this game was not only the tremendous play of Brian Boucher, but was also the strong effort on the penalty kill. The Devils powerplay is eleventh in efficiency and contains plenty of weapons like Kovalchuk, Parise and Patrik Elias so it was vital to the Flyers success to shut them down. The physical play of the Flyers was also a huge factor in the win. Those who provided the physicality included Mike Richards, Chris Pronger, Ian Laperriere and Darroll Powe who set the tempo and energized the team with bone crunching hits. The Devils didn't have anyone to counteract the ferociousness of the Flyers so the Flyers should look to expose the Devils in that category as the series goes on.

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