EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. It has been a quarter of a century since Philadelphia won its last Stanley Cup. The Flyers may get a chance to try for a third in about a week.
The Flyers won a huge game in the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night, defeating New Jersey on its own ice 4-2 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series and guarantee they will play Game 5 Monday night at home with no worse than a 2-2 split.
The difference Thursday night was in net as rookie Brian Boucher of Philadelphia badly outplayed his veteran counterpart, Martin Brodeur of New Jersey, especially early in the contest. It was the second straight game in which Brodeur has given up four goals, highly unusual for him.
Scott Niedermayer scored late in the game to make it 3-2, but rookie center Simon Gagne put the Flyers back up by two with less than two minutes to go.
Philadelphia struck early with Mark Recchi getting his ninth point in his last five games. Playing center instead of his usual spot on the right side because of a manpower crunch, Recchi came on on a 2-on-1 with John LeClair, but Scott Stevens broke it up. Recchi managed to regain the puck and tossed a backhander at Brodeur, who appeared to be having trouble from the very start of the game. It went in at 2:57.
New Jersey tied the game less than 90 seconds later when Claude Lemieux, the Conn Smythe winner in 1995 for New Jersey, took a breakout pass from Vladimir Malakhov and beat the defense to the blue line. With defenseman Luke Richardson trying to hook him down, Lemieux was able to get off a wrist shot that beat Boucher.
Fourteen minutes into the opening period, the tide turned and for the last time. Keith Primeau led a rush down the ice on Brodeur and got off a weak backhander that the goalie kicked out. Ex-Washington Capital Keith Jones scooped up the rebound, flicked it into the right side and then decked the goalie.
Rick Tocchet, who won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh eight years ago, got his third goal in the last two games seven minutes into the second period when he hammered a shot from the top of the right wing circle through Brodeur’s legs. It was a drive that on a normal night the New Jersey goalie would have rejected without a second thought. Thursday night was not a normal night for Brodeur.
Boucher possibly saved the night for the Flyers about 90 seconds into the second period with a sprawling move reminiscent of something Dominik Hasek would do. New Jersey’s Patrik Elias came in on a breakaway shorthanded and for a second had the rookie goalie turned the wrong way. But Boucher twirled around and came down on his back, extending his gloved right hand to block the open side. He got the glove on the ice just in time to stop Elias’ shot and protect the Philadelphia lead.
That it was to be Boucher’s night was evident early. Just two minutes into the game, the Devils’ Valeri Zelepukin blasted away from the left point and beat the Flyers’ goalie between the legs. But Boucher slowed the puck just enough to reach behind himself and prevent it from crossing the line.
Notes Security was especially tight in the arena Thursday night with rink officials admitting they were worried about trouble in the stands. A lot of single game tickets were sold to people last week who arrived in East Rutherford in cars bearing Pennsylvania license plates… .
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