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Devils' OT win gives them 2-1 series lead
Ponikarovsky's goal leads New Jersey to 4-3 victory
The Devils' Alexei Ponikarovsky went to the net when a couple of Flyers decided to go to the bench.
His instinctive move paid off.
Ponikarovsky scored with 2:39 left in overtime, and the New Jersey Devils beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 in Game 3 Thursday night to take a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinals series.
The Devils took advantage of an ill-timed line change by the Flyers, and Ilya Kovalchuk sent a stretch pass to Ponikarovsky. His first shot was stopped by Ilya Bryzgalov, but Ponikarovsky backhanded the rebound in to win it with his first goal in 10 playoff games.
"Previous unit was on the ice long enough, and they were tired and they saw opportunity to change, but the puck wasn't deep enough," Bryzgalov said. "Bad luck."
It wouldn't have mattered if it had not been for the awareness of Ponikarovsky and Kovalchuk.
"It's a terrific feeling to get it in overtime," Ponikarovsky said.
Kovalchuk skated around with the puck while his two linemates left the ice and Philadelphia's Brayden Schenn and Erik Gustafsson went to the bench.
That's when Ponikarovsky hopped on and went straight to the net, taking the perfect feed from Kovalchuk.
"They were really tired, I saw all five guys changing, Poni got to the open spot and he made a great play," Kovalchuk said.
Game 4 is Sunday night in New Jersey.
Zach Parise, Patrik Elias and Kovalchuk scored the other goals for the Devils, and Martin Brodeur had 25 saves.
Kovalchuk, who missed Game 2 with a lower body injury, had three points.
"We have great trainers and we have good doctors here, so they did a great job," Kovalchuk said. "I think it was the right thing to do to sit a couple days. I got four days rest, and I did the stuff I was supposed to do and I feel much better."
New Jersey killed two penalties in overtime before Ponikarovsky scored.
"The last two games the all-around effort on our power play isn't good enough," Flyers forward Danny Briere said. "Their penalty killing unit is outworking us by a mile. It's the reason we lost the last two games. If the power play is hungry, we could be up 3-0. We're just too casual."
Briere scored the tying goal in the third period, and Matt Carle and Schenn had Philadelphia's other goals.
Moments after Kovalchuk hit the post at one end, Briere scored to tie it at 3-3 with 8:56 left in regulation. Brodeur failed to control a slap shot by James van Riemsdyk, and Briere tapped in the rebound from the side of the net for his 50th career playoff goal.
Parise, who didn't have a shot on goal in the first two periods, made his first one count. He gave the Devils a 3-2 lead in the third with his fourth goal of the playoffs.
Elias passed the puck behind the net to Parise, who was to the left side of Bryzgalov. He fought off Carle and stuffed it in.
Coming off a 4-1 win on Tuesday night, the Devils carried that momentum into the first period and dominated the Flyers after falling behind 1-0. They outshot Philadelphia 14-7 and controlled play, taking a 2-1 lead with two goals 20 seconds apart.
First, Elias took a pass in the left circle, faked a shot to get Bryzgalov down and then fired a slap shot past his stick to tie it at 1-1.
Then poor transition defense by the Flyers set up an odd-man rush for New Jersey. Kovalchuk streaked down the center, took a pass from Travis Zajac and wristed a shot that hit off Bryzgalov's blocker and went in.
Carle fired a slap shot past Brodeur to tie it at 2-2. Schenn ripped a one-timer that beat Brodeur to the short side on the power play to put the Flyers up 1-0.
"If we're not going to play stronger, we're not going to play longer," Bryzgalov said.
Notes: Flyers rookie Sean Couturier left in the second period with a lower body injury, and didn't return. Couturier, an outstanding defensive forward, had three goals and one assist in the playoffs. ... Briere has a team-high eight goals in nine games this postseason. ... Elias and Kovalchuk goals in first period were the fastest ever for Devils in a playoff game. ... The team that scored first has lost the first three games. ... The Flyers upset Pittsburgh in six games in the first round. ... The Devils beat Florida in double overtime in Game 7 to win Round 1. ... Flyers fell to 3-1 vs. Devils in playoff OTs.