NEWARK, NJ — For two teams on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, Friday night’s turnpike tilt was filled to the brim with moxie.
A five-minute major call for boarding just five minutes into the game set the tone, fueling emotions while riling up a crowd that didn’t need any extra motivation as the Philadelphia Flyers and their bandwagon traveled north looking to twist the knife at Prudential Center in Newark.
James van Riemsdyk, a Christian Brothers Academy product from Middletown, N.J., seized the initiative with a power-play goal later in the first period before connecting again just 1:23 after the ensuing faceoff to double the lead and the Flyers never looked back en route to a 6-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils before 15,247 in attendance at “The Rock.”
Making his first start in between the pipes for Philadelphia, Cam Talbot, acquired just prior to the trade deadline from the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 15, steered 30-of-33 shots to pick up the win for the Flyers while setting an NHL record in the process. The Caldeonia, Ontario native became the eighth goalie Philadelphia has used this season, the most-ever used by one team in a single season.
“A five-minute power play you never want to give up a shorthanded goal so me for it was a big confidence booster for me early in the game, and the team gave it to me,” Talbot, making his first start since Feb. 9, said. “Hadn’t played in a while, so for me it was a big one.”
Carrying a 2-0 lead into the first intermission, the Devils slashed the deficit in half 4:25 into the second period when Damon Severson found the back of the net from Kenny Agostino and Travis Zajac. New Jersey continued to battle and tied the game at 2-2 when Jesper Bratt backhanded a Talbot rebound off Severson’s initial shot to erase the lead and begin anew.
The game had all the earmarks of a textbook I-95 Turnpike tilt until a miscue from Cory Schneider, coming out to make a play, sent the puck barreling off Travis Konecny, then another defender in front before caroming in behind him with just 30 seconds on the clock in the second period.
The fortuitous bounce, crediting Konecny with the goal, gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead after two and an advantage they would not relinquish a second time.
Still steaming from the first-period boarding call levied on Nolan Patrick by Kurtis Gabriel, Philadelphia came storming out of the gates in the third and made it a 4-2 game when Sean Couturier hit 27 seconds in. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek picked up assists.
The Flyers kept the pedal to the metal and Ivan Provorov extended the Philadelphia lead to three when the defenseman found himself in front deflecting Travis Sanheim’s shot from the point to make it 5-2.
Feeding off the raucous crowd that was equally split in loyalty, sticks came up again with 9:57 remaining in regulation as Konecny and Patrick, perhaps looking for a little payback, mixed it up with Severson and Sami Vatanen after the whistle. All four were sent to the box to the delight of everyone except themselves as tempers continued to flare.
“That’s obviously the way that guy plays. He’s in their lineup for a reason,” Patrick said following the first-period hit-from-behind by Gabriel. “Just had to go through the concussion protocol, obviously it’s mandatory, spotters are there to take you out immediately, so I decided to go then get back out there.
“The best way to respond is the way we did,” Patrick said. “Beating them.”
Down four and looking for a spark, Devils’ coach John Hynes pulled Schneider in favour of an extra attacker but the ploy did not work as Konecny found an empty net for his second of the game with 3:48 left.
To their credit, the young, rebuilding Devils franchise, amiss without reigning NHL Most Valuable Player, Taylor Hall, in the lineup for most of this season, never quit and made it a three-goal game again when Kevin Rooney found the back of the net with 2:12 to go.
Severson, who finished with a goal and two assists, drew his third point of the game on the play, but the night belonged to Philadelphia.
“I really like Kevin Rooney’s game and the way he continues to play with confidence and to his strengths. His speed was a factor,” Devils’ coach John Hynes said. “He’s a lot stronger on the puck, more assertive with it in battles in the offensive zone. Now you’re starting to see a guy who’s a little more confident.”
The Devils drop to 25-32-8 (58 points) in the Metropolitan Division.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t put enough in the net. We’re going to continue to work on that,” Hynes said. “We have to have more shots, get in and around the net a little bit better. Some odd bounces in tonight’s game and we’re not a team that can afford that.”
Philadelphia has won six of its last nine to climb to 31-26-8. With 70 points, the Flyers are five points back from the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins — tied for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“It was a hard-fought game, we were able to pull away at the end but it certainly was a challenging game for us,” van Riemsdyk, who tallied his 18th and 19th goals of the season, said. “Something we’ve tried to do all year long is try to stay as a pack in those situations and not get pushed around by other teams. So with the guys all jumping in, we responded pretty well.
“It’s always fun for me playing in this building,” van Riemsdyk, who won a state title with CBA in 2005, said. “A lot of friends and family after the game and a lot of Jersey people here to support me so it’s always fun for me to play here.”
Thrown right into the Flyers-Devils frying pan, Talbot relished the opportunity of getting back into the east coast rivalry.
“It always adds another element to the game which is always fun,” Talbot, who began his career with the New York Rangers, said. “Had a lot of those games with the Rangers here and out on Long Island. It’s always fun to be a part of those games.
“Obviously, things didn’t turn out the way I hoped in Edmonton but it’s nice to get a fresh start with a team that’s playing extremely well right now,” Talbot said. “Just coming in trying to keep my head down and not mess with the chemistry here and contribute any chance I can like tonight.”
While mathematically still alive, the Flyers will need a few more breaks to go their way. In essence, the Montreal Canadiens, the Blue Jackets, Penguins, Flyers and even the Buffalo Sabres are fighting for what is just two wild cards.
“It was a tough game for us. It wasn’t easy,” said Couturier, who scored his team-leading 25th of the season. “It wasn’t pretty but we found a way to win — that’s all that matters. There’s no excuses. We need the points.”
“Every point is huge for us right now so we want to just keep doing our job and keep taking care of our business and see where things stack up at the end of the year,” van Riemsdyk said.
Patrick liked the way his teammates stood up for him after the first-period hit.
“Yeah, a lot of guys have been stepping up lately and playing well,” Patrick, the second overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, said. “I thought Reemer was great tonight and Talbot made some big saves. It’s a big win for us.”
Written by John Christian Hageny / @JCCSPORTS
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