(The Devils’ Jordin Tootoo and the Flyers’ Michael Del Zotto –@NHLDevils)
The Devils and Philadelphia Flyers have had one of the fiercest rivalries over the last two decades, especially when both teams were among the elite of the NHL.
They faced each other in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1995 and 2000, with each series won by the Devils. The battles between the Devils’ Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko, and the Flyers’ Legion of Doom of Eric Lindros, John LeClair, and Mikael Renberg are legendary.
Over the next decade, each team made the playoffs, but with a lot of quick exits, aside from Stanley Cup Final appearances by the Flyers in 2010 and the Devils in 2012.
The Flyers have had a fiercer rivalry, evoking the battles of the 1970s, with the Rangers the past few years, marked by their seven-game series in the first round of the playoffs in 2014.
The Devils have not made the playoffs since they lost that Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings, and are in the midst of a rebuilding.
This past offseason, the Devils brought in Ray Shero to be their new General Manager and John Hynes as head coach.
The Flyers missed the playoffs last season, and also revamped their team, and also have a new head coach, Dave Hakstol.
The Devils and Flyers are ahead of schedule in terms of rebuilding and both could make the playoffs this season, as the Devils have 29 points and the Flyers 27. It won’t be too long before they are at the top of the Metropolitan Division and the Rangers, Penguins, and Capitals embark on a rebuilding.
The way to build a team in the NHL is with a strong goaltender, and each team is strong in net. The Devils’ Cory Schneider is arguably the best in the league, and is 11-7-3 this season, with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage, while the Flyers rotate Michal Neuvirth, who is 6-3-1 with a 2.12 GAA, and Steve Mason (5-7-4 with a 2.73 GAA).
The Devils also have built a good nucleus on offense, with Mike Cammalleri, who has 26 points this season (9 goals, 17 assists), Adam Henrique (12 goals, 8 assists), Lee Stempniak (5 goals, 14 assists), and Kyle Palmieri (10 goals, 9 assists).
The Flyers have a strong front line with Claude Giroux (9 goals, 13 assists), Wayne Simmonds (7 goals, 8 assists), and Brayden Schenn (6 goals, 4 assists).
The Devils and Flyers faced off Friday night in Newark, and it was an intense game throughout, marked by the amount of fights.
The first period ended with some fisticuffs, followed by a big fight between Bobby Farnham of the Devils and Philadelphia’s Scott Laughton.
In the third period, there were two instances of battles by the benches. Philadelphia’s Chris VandeVelde stopped Farnham from getting to the Devils’ bench, and then they each shoved each other, which resulted in roughing penalties 2:53 into the third. A bit later in the period, the same thing happened with Wayne Simmonds stopping the Devils’ Jordin Tootoo from getting to the bench, and each got high-sticking penalties at the 13:12 mark.
The Devils got on the board first, as Stefan Matteau got his first of the season 6:36 into the first period, and Philadelphia tied it three minutes later on a goal by Simmonds.
Philadelphia took the lead in the second, as Claude Giroux scored on the power play to make it 2-1.
The Devils tied it 1:55 into the third, as Kyle Palmieri scored on the power play on a set up from Mike Cammalleri and Patrik Elias. The Flyers re-took the lead with 10:30 remaining when Pierre-Edouard Bellemare scored on a set up from VandeVelde and Evgeny Medvedev.
It stayed that way until the final minutes, when Bellemare was called for a tripping penalty with 2:21 remaining, giving the Devils a power play.
The Devils took advantage, as Cammalleri scored with a minute remaining to tie it. Cammalleri got open on the left side, and was set up by Lee Stempniak and Tyler Kennedy.
The game went into overtime, and the Flyers won it on a Matt Read goal with 1:36 remaining. Read flew down the ice and shot it off Cory Schneider’s chest, where it bounced in the air and trickled into the net.
There is some dispute as to whether the goal should have been allowed, as Read knocked down Palmieri with a shoulder to the head before racing to the other end to score the winner.
Palmieri was about to get a shot on goal when the hit occurred, and he said of the play, “I didn’t think there was anyone coming from over there. I definitely didn’t see him. I thought I was all alone in front so I tried to get a shot off. The next thing I knew I was on the ground and had to back check. I saw a 2-on-1 going the other way and I tried to get back. In OT, there are going to be scoring chances. I wanted to get back and hopefully eliminate a rebound or something like that.”
On if it should have been a penalty, Palmieri said, “I don’t know…I felt the hit, I turned the puck over and saw them going 2-on-1. I was leaning over. I don’t know if I was in a vulnerable spot. I just remember turning the puck over.”
Devils Head Coach John Hynes said of the game, “I think when you look at it, I thought tonight was a little bit of a test of mental toughness. I have a lot of respect for our group. We didn’t have our best game for 40 minutes but we found a way to claw back, stay in it and found a way to get a point. And that’s a step for us. It wasn’t an easy game coming in back-to-back. Philly played really well and we were not at our best. But we found a way to stay with it. That’s a real good sign for our team. There was no give-up. If you want to be a consistently competitive team, you have to have that.”
Palmieri said of the Devils’ performance, “It was 40 minutes of not very good hockey, myself included. I didn’t show up for the first 40 minutes. We were lucky enough to be coming into the third down 2-1. Schneids kept us in it. It came down to the end and we were lucky to get the one point.”
The Devils had a tough schedule this week, and fatigue may have played a part in the sluggish performance. Palmieri said of that, “It’s a lot of hockey this week. Four games in six nights. It’s tough. And obviously, there is some travel thrown in. For the most part, we had some momentum coming off last night’s win (in Carolina) and felt pretty good about ourselves. We just didn’t show up to play. Myself included, we were sleeping through the first 40.”
Schneider said of the game, “I don’t like giving up four goals. I feel like I could’ve had a better game.”