Zidlicky's lackluster play speaks volumes as Flyers trip Devils in OT
Marek Zidlicky's on-ice lapses helped put the Devils into a hole against the Flyers
Daniel Briere's overtime winner, his seventh goal of the playoffs, lifted Philly
Ilya Kovalchuk struggled in the series opener and may be playing with a bad back
Marek Zidlicky -- DOG.
That isn't meant to be an acrimoniously acronymed dig at the New Jersey Devils' defenseman, though many Devs fans probably won't disagree today if it is. DOG stands for delay of game, the penalty for which Zidlicky's name has become too well-associated during his team's last two postseason games.
But the canine dig could apply to Zidlicky's play on the ice just before Daniel Briere's overtime goal in Philadelphia's 4-3 win over visiting New Jersey in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday.
Not long after costing his team any early chance at momentum in OT with a careless flip of the puck into the stands, Zidlicky made three more errors on Briere's goal: turning the puck over with a bad pass up the boards, losing a puck battle after it was kept in because of his bad pass, and, finally, helping screen goalie Martin Brodeur on Briere's shot.
This may explain why the Minnesota Wild wanted nothing to do with Zidlicky by late in the regular season, benching and finally dealing him to New Jersey for an astounding three players and two draft picks at the trade deadline. If Brodeur has been thinking, "We gave up how much for this guy?" during the last three days, he could be justified. Zidlicky nearly cost his team a first-round victory with a DOG penalty late in Game 7 that led to the Florida Panthers' tying goal with about three minutes left.
Zidlicky's backhander into the stands didn't directly lead to Briere's game-winner (though Briere did score with Zidlicky in the box, although it was disallowed due to his distinct kicking motion), but it got the Devils off to a lousy start in OT and they never recovered.
Briere, the man who once passed through waivers unclaimed after being dumped by the Phoenix Coyotes, continues to build a playoff performance log that is starting to rank among the best in league history. His two goals were the 48th and 49th of his postseason career, which includes 106 points in 104 games.
"I have no explanation for it. Things are happening. I just always dreamed about being in the playoffs growing up and I just try to enjoy it," Briere told NBC's Pierre McGuire after the game when asked about his postseason prowess.
Of course, he got a little help on the winner. With Zidlicky having just lost a battle with Philly's Jakub Voracek for the puck in the left corner, the hapless Devils blueliner scrambled back to the middle and watched Briere's shot beat Brodeur at 4:36, a goal that came with a little controversy, too.
The Devils thought Philly's James van Riemsdyk should have been called for goalie interference, as replays clearly showed JVR bumping into Brodeur prior to the shot. But neither Wes McCauley nor Dan O'Halloran felt the bump was egregious enough to warrant the call. The refs did rule that Briere's first goal of OT -- at 2:13 -- was good at first, but they were overruled after a video review because of an obvious kick.
"The referees have a hard job. They see it live," Brodeur told reporters. "Definitely van Riemsdyk pushed my stick over when he came across. He didn't do it on purpose. I think he's just going in front of the net. I've got my position there, but it prevented me from making the save and when it goes so quick like that for the referee, especially after disallowing one kicking goal, they wouldn't do that twice in Philly, that's for sure."
Even so, the better team won, despite a terrible start by the Flyers, who allowed the first 11 shots and fell behind 1-0 after a Matt Read turnover and subsequent score by Zach Parise. Aside from some careless puck-handling and shaky overall netminding from Flyers' goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, Philly really took it to the Devils most of the final 40 minutes. They outshot the Devils 23-7 in periods two and three, and 7-4 in OT.
Philly got its forechecking game going and started forcing some turnovers, getting a breakaway goal from Briere to tie it at 8:07 of the second. They also got a break on their second goal after some floppy goaltending from Brodeur allowed a van Riemsdyk goal at 8:44.
Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils' $102 million man, played a terrible game with no shots on goal and was minus-2. He threw the puck away to Voracek before the first goal, his miscue leading to Voracek's long lead pass to Briere, who slipped past Devils defender Peter Harrold. Kovalchuk took a beating on Devils' message boards after the game, but he may be playing hurt. The Bergen Record, in fact, reported that he may be bothered by a lower-back injury, noting that he was walking gingerly after the game and spent a while in the medical room.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer lamented his team's mental issues more than anything physical. "We couldn't sustain what we did in the first period. They took the game over in the second half and when you're just hanging on ..." he told reporters.
Philadelphia, which hadn't played in seven days and showed the rust, got another great game from Claude Giroux, whose top-shelf one-timer for Philly's third goal at 4:19 of the third was as good a shot as you'll ever see. He also won 14-of-25 faceoffs.
Giroux had one goal in 11 playoff games last year. He's got seven in his first seven this time around. The Conn Smythe Trophy would have his name on it if the playoffs had ended Sunday. His coach, Peter Laviolette, has already called him "the best player in the world."
If we wanted to give a DOG acronym to Giroux's life right now, we suppose Days of Greatness could apply.