First-round breakdown: Devils-Flyers
We can't imagine the Devils are terribly happy with the shootout result in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon.
If there's one lower seed New Jersey would have surely liked to avoid, it was the Flyers, who won five of six games in the season series this year.
"They controlled us pretty well," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner told The Bergen Record. "They stomped us the first game [5-2 on opening night] and we didn't play well in their building too many times. We've got to understand what they do and be ready for that. I don't think we did that during the regular season."
It's the first postseason meeting between the old Patrick Division rivals since the Flyers prevailed in 2004. New Jersey won the two previous playoff series in 2000 (remembered best for Scott Stevens' hit on Eric Lindros) and 1995.
1. Lopsided goalie matchup: New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and his NHL-leading 45 wins in one net versus Brian Boucher, the odd man out in the Philadelphia net before season-ending injuries to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton gave him a chance. There isn't a more one-sided goalie matchup in the first round. Having said that, give Boucher credit for getting his team in the playoffs with solid performances over the final 10 days of the regular season.
2. Ilya Kovalchuk: This is his moment. Now we find out what he's made of. The blockbuster rental acquisition of the year has craved the chance to win; now he has to do his part. The biggest fish in the UFA market July 1, Kovalchuk's postseason performance could also pay dividends financially. Kovalchuk has put up 27 points (10-17) in 27 games with the Devils after the trade.
3. Special teams: The Flyers have the edge in this area, ranking third in the NHL on the power play and a respectable 11th on the penalty kill. The Devils were 11th on the power play and 13th on the penalty kill. New Jersey's power play, however, has a much different look with the dangerous Kovalchuk on it.
4. Daniel Carcillo: Remember how Sean Avery drove Brodeur nuts in the playoffs a few years ago? Well, move over Sean, because the NHL's No. 1 agitator now is definitely Mr. Carcillo, and he'll be doing his very best to get under the skin of Brodeur and the rest of the Devils in this series.
5. Chris Pronger: Whether it's the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 or the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, the talented and rugged blueliner has always raised his level of play in the postseason and success seems to follow him. He's a beast come playoff time.
• Chris Pronger versus Devils winger Zach Parise: Don't be surprised if Pronger is on the ice almost every time the dangerous Parise is. Kovalchuk is dynamite, but Parise is the engine for the Devils' offense and the guy Pronger will likely be asked to focus his efforts on.
• New Jersey: Brodeur allowed only seven goals in his past seven regular-season games; he's at the top of his game entering the playoffs. Langenbrunner had only one point, a goal on Sunday, in his past seven games of the regular season.
• Philadelphia: Forward Daniel Briere had six points (2-4) in the team's final seven regular-season games, plus a big shootout goal in the last game to help clinch a playoff berth. Rookie winger James van Riemsdyk has struggled post-Olympics with only three points (2-1) in 21 games.
• The Flyers are a better team than what they showed this season and are a dangerous first-round foe, one that routinely beat the Devils in the regular season. This could be a long and closely battled series. But we see Kovalchuk producing and Brodeur shutting the door when it matters. Devils in seven games.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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