Round 2 of the NHL playoffs officially kicked off on Sunday for the Flyers as they began a best of 7 series against an old playoff foe the NJ Devils. These days the Penguins and Rangers clearly are the top rivals for Flyer fans, but those of us who grew up with the Flyers in the 90s had a hate for the NJ Devils from a young age. This is the 5th time since 1995 the Flyers and Devils will face off against one another in a playoff series the last coming in 2010 when the Flyers beat NJ en route to the Stanley Cup Finals against Chicago.
Growing up in Jersey I was always asked why I’m not cheering for the team from my own state. It’s a fair question to have been asked, but the NJ Devils really are a NY metro area team. They play in Newark and in my eyes, just never had the historic appeal the Flyers always had. Not to mention when you’re groomed to be a Philly sports fan from a young age any team playing in the NY area was considered public enemy number one so that would include the North Jersey Devils.
Prior to this year’s matchup, the Flyers/Devils have met in 1995, 2000, 2004, and 2010. Each series provided some of the most memorable moments in Flyers playoff history. The 95 series saw the two teams meet in the Eastern Conference Finals where the Devils won in 6 thanks to the play of Claude Lemieux. The Flyers came in with the upstart Legion of Doom line and were favored to win, but in the end, the Devils proved to have the edge. Lemieux’s 11th goal of the postseason in game 6 sealed it when he beat Flyers goalie Ron Hextall. The Devils would go on to beat the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals. It was the first of 3 Stanley Cups for the Devils between 1995 and 2003.
The 2000 series will forever be known as the series that ended the Flyers career of the great Eric Lindros. The Flyers held a commanding 3-1 series lead but couldn’t finish off the Devils. Eric Lindros was leveled by Devils defensemen Scott Stevens as he carried the puck over the middle of the ice. It was the last time we’d ever see Lindros in orange and black, and of course, the Devils wound up moving on to the Stanley Cup finals that season to defeat the Dallas Stars in 6 games.
Finally, in 2004, the Flyers would win a playoff series against the rivals from just up the Jersey Turnpike. They eliminated the Devils 4 games to 1 on their way to an appearance against the eventual Stanley Cup champs the Tampa Bay Lightning where they lost in 7 games in the East Finals.
The last meeting between the two teams came in 2010 where the 7th seeded Flyers came in losing every game against NJ during the regular season. The Flyers found their way into the playoffs that year thanks to a shootout victory over the NY Rangers in the last game of the season. The Flyers won that opening round series 4-1 and eventually got on a hot streak that carried them all the way to the Stanley Cup finals where they lost in 6 games to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Throughout the Devils/Flyers rivalry, one thing that’s certain is you’ll find Martin Brodeur in goal for NJ. Brodeur is still in goal coming into the 2012 series. You can see after game one though he isn’t the same goalie he used to be but in the early part of his career, Brodeur was a huge reason for the Devils success. As much as I hate to say it, he’s without a doubt one of the greatest goalies to ever play the game.
Game 1 on Sunday afternoon provided plenty of drama and excitement for everyone watching. The Flyers certainly came out showing rust in the 1st period but eventually came to life in the 2nd period. It was a game that featured bad goaltending on both sides of the rink. Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t have his best game of the playoffs as he let in a late goal in the 3rd which many believed was soft. In the end, the most interesting man in the playoffs Danny Briere and his two goals including the overtime winner proved to be too much for NJ. After seeing game 1, I feel pretty comfortable saying the Flyers will win this series. Once they kicked off the rust, it was pretty much total domination the rest of the way. If Bryzgalov is able to get his act together, which I believe he will, the Flyers should win this series no problem. I believe the Flyers will win this series in 5. The Flyers just have too much momentum going for them right now, and NJ just doesn’t have the offensive explosiveness compared to Philly.
Not that anyone should be looking past this series, but I believe we’re being set up for a NY/Philly Eastern Conference Finals where the Flyers will have a chance to get revenge against a Ranger team that beat the Flyers in all six regular season matchups. For now, though let’s sit back and enjoy a playoff series of class rivals as the Flyers and Devils are set to entertain us for round 2.