New Jersey Devils' Alexei Ponikarovsky, top, of Ukraine, celebrates his game-winning goal against the Philadelphia Flyers with teammates Ilya Kovalchuk (17), of Russia, and Martin Brodeur (30) in a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 3 of a second-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series, Thursday, May 3, 2012 in Newark, N.J. The Devils took a 2-1 lead in the series. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
NEWARK, N.J. - On the eve of his 40th birthday, New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur isn't expecting the Philadelphia Flyers to show up bearing gifts for Game 4.
The Flyers can't afford the gesture at this point in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal. They trail 2-1 heading into Sunday's game at the Prudential Center, and the margin might easily have been 3-0.
That's how well the Devils have played this series. They've slowed down Philadelphia's offence with their forecheck while also shutting down a power play that had a big hand in sending Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins home in the previous round.
If Brodeur has a concern, it's about his own team, which won Game 3 in overtime Thursday night. The Devils relaxed at times in the opening round against the Florida Panthers and can't afford a repeat of that.
"It's been like that for our team," Brodeur said Saturday. "When you have a little success you let up a little bit. As we have gotten experience in the playoffs, so far, slowly we are putting things together, two games, three games, four games. It's Game 6 (vs. Florida) through Game 3. This is a lot of games we're playing some good hockey. We just have to keep going that way."
The Flyers have been good in spurts, but they have struggled against the Devils' forechecking.
Philadelphia centre Claude Giroux, the leading scorer in the playoffs entering Saturday's play, has been a non-factor the past two games.
In a bid to shake things up, coach Peter Laviolette changed lines at practice Saturday.
James van Riemsdyk was taken off the left side of Giroux's line and replaced by Scott Hartnell. Van Riemdyk will replace Hartnell on Danny Briere's line.
"I think it's not a series like Pittsburgh that's more open and there's going to be a lot of goals scored," Giroux said. "I think we need to understand it's going to be a close game and if we have to win 1-0, that's good enough."
The other change expected in the Flyers' lineup is Zac Rinaldo taking over for Sean Couturier (lower-body injury) on the fourth line. Couturier was hurt in Game 3.
Devils captain Zach Parise said the team has done a good job of not giving the Flyers any cheap goals. However, there are still too many penalties. The Flyers have had 16 power plays in the first three games but only scored twice. They had 12 power-play goals in six games against Pittsburgh.
Laviolette thinks his team has made adjustments both in their defensive end and at centre ice against New Jersey, but the Flyers need to push more on the offensive end.
"I do think that our team is capable of playing certain parts of that game better than we did. That's the objective," Laviolette said. "Play a better 60 minutes. More competitive. So emotionally, yeah, better. Offensively, yeah, better. There's lot of things I think we can do better. That's our goal in Game 4."
The Devils, who like the Flyers took Friday off, didn't change anything for Saturday's roughly one-hour practice. Ilya Kovalchuk, who had a goal and two assists returning to the lineup for Game 3 on Thursday, said the lower-body injury that sidelined him for Game 2 was feeling fine.
Off the ice, there were a lot of smiles and confidence in the Devils' locker room.
"We're in a good spot right now," Parise said. "We feel like we know what is working for us and we have to continue to do that. It was the same with the Florida series. When we played to our strengths we beat them. When we were trying to be fancy and turning the puck over that's when they were beating us. It's pretty simple."
It's an opinion Brodeur shares after 18 NHL seasons and three Stanley Cup championships.
"Hockey is just a game," said Brodeur, who joked about his age and the fact that backup goaltender Johan Hedberg turned 39 on Saturday.
"I don't know why they associate age with it all the time," Brodeur added. "It is what it is. I don't think that extra day makes that big of a difference."
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