NEWARK, N.J. — The New Jersey Devils are looking as good with a 40-year-old Martin Brodeur in goal as they did when he was a kid.
Dainius Zubrus scored two goals and the Devils helped Brodeur celebrate a major birthday, overcoming a two-goal deficit and pushing the Philadelphia Flyers to the brink of elimination with a 4-2 victory Sunday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.
“You kind of shake your head a little bit that you’re at a level that you’re having fun and be able to compete in the league that you always wanted to play and still be able to keep going,” Brodeur said after the Devils moved within a win of their first conference final since 2003.
“I know I don’t take anything for granted,” the three-time Stanley Cup winner said. “I really appreciate every moment. Especially this year has been awesome for me. Getting older, seeing other kids grow up and do their thing and become superstars.”
The Devils have made the Flyers look ordinary, and Philadelphia has more to worry about than just its 3-1 series deficit.
Leading scorer Claude Giroux put a questionable hit on Zubrus minutes after the New Jersey forward scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period. Giroux’s status for Game 5 on Tuesday night in Philadelphia might be in question.
“For me, it looks like the textbook hit that they’re trying to take out of the game,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said.
Zubrus, who lay on the ice for a couple of seconds while Giroux went to the penalty box for 2 minutes, said it’s up to the NHL to look at the play.
Giroux seemingly wasn’t worried.
“It was quick play. And hockey is a quick game. I think I should be fine,” Giroux said.
Whether the Flyers will be remains to be seen. New Jersey is simply outplaying them, something few expected after Philadelphia knocked out Pittsburgh in the first round.
Devils captain Zach Parise says this team won’t be too cocky.
“There is still a long way to go,” he said. “It’s a very good team over there and we’ve got to get that fourth one.”
The Devils showed a lot of poise rallying from an early 2-0 deficit.
“It was a great effort from the guys,” Brodeur said. “We started not the way we wanted to start the game. We get bang-bang — a power-play goal and a short-handed goal — but we beared down afterward and we dominated the game.”
Petr Sykora and Marek Zidlicky also scored for the Devils, who have never lost a playoff series after taking a 3-1 lead.
In winning their third straight, the Devils outshot Philadelphia 43-22, and Brodeur even picked up an assist on Zubrus’ final goal on a night as he became the first goaltender to appear in an NHL playoff game as a teenager and a 40-year-old.
Scott Hartnell and Giroux scored first-period goals for the Flyers, who once again were a step slow.
“Our skating is not there, and that’s the biggest key for us,” Philadelphia defenceman Kimmo Timonen said. “It’s been three games now that we’re not skating. And to me, everything starts with skating. When we’re not skating, everything goes out the window for us.”
The Flyers seemed to come apart at the end of the game. Timonen took a foolish penalty in the closing minutes and Philadelphia never got off a good shot after pulling goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in the final minute.
In fact, Zubrus was about to score into an empty net when he was hooked. Still, the puck went off his stick and into the net.
That’s how dominant the Devils were.
“We didn’t expect to be here,” Flyers centre Danny Briere said. “I don’t know what else to tell you. We are just not making plays.”
New Jersey outshot Philadelphia 32-12 in the first two periods, but the shots advantage only translated into a 3-2 lead, with the Devils scoring three in a row to wipe out a 2-0 deficit.
Zubrus gave New Jersey its first lead with 2:13 left in the second period. The Flyers actually broke up a 3-on-1 break into their zone, but they lost sight of Zubrus, and Adam Henrique found him all alone in front for a shot that went in off Bryzgalov.
Moments before the goal, Brodeur stopped a shot from the point by Timonen, and Hartnell couldn’t get off a good shot on the rebound with Brodeur down and the net open.
Sykora, who might have gotten a piece of Hartnell’s rebound attempt, quickly led the 3-on-1 counterattack and the Devils pulled ahead.
The Devils forced Flyers coach Peter Laviolette to use his timeout less than 5 minutes after the opening faceoff, and for a couple of minutes it appeared to be a magical move.
Getting a lift from its special teams, Philadelphia jumped to a 2-0 lead.
Hartnell gave the Flyers the lead, deflecting Giroux’s shot past Brodeur seconds after Travis Zajac was tripped and took a retaliatory interference penalty.
Giroux, who had been invisible in the Devils’ wins in Games 2 and 3, doubled the margin at 13:40 by beating the birthday boy on a 2-on-1 short-handed tally after taking a great break-in-pass from Maxime Talbot.
The goal came 13 seconds after Philadelphia defenceman Andreas Lilja was called for tripping, but the Devils didn’t let the man advantage go to waste.
Sykora cut the Devils’ deficit in half late in the power play, redirecting a nice cross-ice pass by Zidlicky past Bryzgalov, who was a little slow covering the corner of the net after the defenceman made the pass from the right point to the left edge of the crease.
Zidlicky tied it with 1:51 left in the period after the Flyers’ seemed to lose sight of the defenceman after he pinched down from the right point. The puck ended up on the left point and fellow defenceman Bryce Salvador found Zidlicky between the circles for a redirection.
NOTES: The Flyers have overcame a 3-1 series deficit once, in 2010 when then came back from 3-0 down to beat Boston in conference semifinals. … Devils fourth-line C Ryan Carter was scratched because of an illness. Tim Sestito played in his first NHL post-season game replacing him. … Sean Couturier, who missed the final two periods of Game 3 with a lower-body injury, was back in the Flyers’ lineup. … Ilya Kovalchuk provided some entertainment in the third period attempting to keep a puck in the Flyers’ zone with a header at the blue line. He failed. …The Devils have sold out all five of their home games in the playoffs.